After two whirlwind call-ups, Akeel Morris is simply waiting for his chance to both prove he belongs … and to whittle down an almost historically high career ERA he’s had to shoulder for two years.
The Braves right-hander has a 67.50 in 2/3 of an inning he threw for the Mets on June 17, 2015. That’s tied for the second-highest of any pitcher since 1979 who has thrown more than 1/3 of an inning in their debut.
“Definitely want to get back there,” Morris said. “That’s definitely why we’re here. I know it comes with time, patience and just be ready for when they call you. I look forward to some opportunities this year.”
With the possibility that Atlanta could open the season with an eight-man bullpen, the opportunity could be there for Morris. Especially if his work in the Braves system last season and early spring results are any indication.
The 24-year-old Virgin Islands product pitched two scoreless innings in the Grapefruit League opener against the Blue Jays, striking out three — all on three pitches — and walked one.
That comes after he struck out 50 in 35 2/3 innings at Double-A Mississippi after he was dealt to the Braves on June 8, and added to his time for New York’s affiliate at the same level, Morris had 86 Ks to 37 walks and a .208 batting average against in 47 games.
He earned a spot on Atlanta’s active roster last season, but it proved to be incredibly short-lived.
Promoted on Aug. 12 after posting a .214 BAA in his first 18 appearances, Morris joined the Braves in Washington D.C., but didn’t play. A day later, he was back with the M-Braves.
It was a whirlwind, but nothing compared to what he experienced with the Mets a year before.
“It was definitely a surprise” Morris said. “I remember I was at a birthday party of one of my teammates when I got the call, so it was pretty cool. Just traveling the next day, it was all surreal.”
He had been at the birthday party of teammate Dominic Smith when the call came that he would be joining the Mets for their series against the Blue Jays in Toronto. It was an emergency move as the Mets bullpen had been overworked, and Morris went all the way from Class-A St. Lucie to the majors.
Morris was put in with the Mets down 3-0 in the eighth inning and proceeded to issue walks to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista before a misplayed Edwin Encarnacion grounder loaded the bases. Toronto would get to the reliever for five runs, capped by a there-run Danny Valencia home run.
“What I learned really is try not to do too much and try to stay in control,” Morris says of the experience.
He’s become an intriguing option in terms of showing how he’s learned from that brief appearance.
The Braves are set with a number of their bullpen options in Jim Johnson, Arodys Vizcaino and Mauricio Cabrera, Ian Krol, Jose Ramirez and Chaz Roe are all out of minor league options and Josh Collmenter appears to be the favorite for the long-relief role.
That puts Morris in competition with the likes of left-handers Paco Rodriguez and Eric O’Flaherty, along with veteran Blaine Boyer and Rule 5 pick Armando Rivero (who is dealing with shoulder discomfort).
It’s a group heavy on experience, but the Braves willingness to go to young arms has given Morris the faith that he could get that chance, be it on Opening Day or down the line in 2017.
“It is a younger organization and it’s exciting time,” Morris said. “I see the opportunity’s there and it’s just being ready when you get there.”