CAN THIS NINTH GUY FIN­ISH FIRST?

Mor­row has been a closer, and Mad­don is count­ing on him to do it again

Chicago Sun-Times - - LEADING OFF - RICK MOR­RIS­SEY Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ Mor­ris­seyCST. Email: rmor­ris­sey@ sun­times. com

MESA, Ariz. — The last time right- han­der Brandon Mor­row was a closer was 10 years ago.

It’s that time gap, not his pitch­ing abil­ity, that raises ques­tions about whether the Cubs have found a real, live closer to take the place of the de­parted Wade Davis.

There are two ways of look­ing at this.

The sun­shiny view: It’s not as if Mor­row is be­ing asked to be a po­lice­man after 10 years as a plumber. He’ll still be do­ing the same thing he has al­ways done. One mo­ment the ball will be in his hand, and the next it will leave his hand at a high rate of speed. Sim­ple, right?

The dark- and- stormy- night view: He’ll be do­ing it in the ninth in­ning, an in­ning that weighs more than all the others. He’ll still be a po­lice­man, but now he’ll be a hostage ne­go­tia­tor.

If he’s as un­con­cerned on the mound as he was talk­ing about his new role Wed­nes­day, he’ll be fine.

“Over the last 10 years, I’ve kind of seen it all,’’ he said. “I’ve got a much lower heart rate than I used to.’’

When Mor­row was 23, the Mariners asked him to be their closer. He went from com­pet­ing for a spot as a starter to clos­ing games. That’s not the way you draw it up, but it would serve as perfect fore­shad­ow­ing for a ca­reer path that has me­an­dered.

“Clos­ing at a young age, I prob­a­bly wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily pre­pared for that as far as com­mand and abil­ity to go out on a daily ba­sis and re­ally com­pete,’’ he said. “The stuff was there, and I was get­ting by on that mainly, but I con­sider my­self a much better pitcher now. All the ex­pe­ri­ence over the last 10 years, I think, has pre­pared me well.’’

He had 10 saves in 2008, split time be­tween start­ing and clos­ing the next sea­son and be­came a starter with the Blue Jays after Seat­tle traded him in De­cem­ber 2009. When the Cubs saw him with the Dodgers in the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries last sea­son, he was shut­ting them down as a setup man.

“I plan on be­ing re­ally good any­time I’m out there,’’ he said. “I don’t think it re­ally mat­ters at what point. Ob­vi­ously, the ninth in­ning is re­ally im­por­tant men­tally for the team. Blown saves are tough men­tally. If you lose a game in the third, it’s not the same as when you lose a game in the ninth. Hav­ing some­one that can be con­sis­tent in

that role is im­por­tant.’’

He saw Dodgers closer Ken­ley Jansen mow through hit­ters last sea­son. If he can’t du­pli­cate Jansen’s pitch­ing abil­ity — few can — he can at least take a swing at Jansen’s abil­ity to ig­nore ev­ery­thing around him in the ninth in­ning. Bliss­ful ig­no­rance is one of the se­crets to be­ing a suc­cess­ful closer.

“I think just putting the blin­ders up, just treat­ing it like a dif­fer­ent in­ning,’’ Mor­row said. “I was kind of treat­ing it like I was pitch­ing in the ninth last year. From a mind­set point of view, we had Ken­ley be­hind me, and if you could get through the eighth, the game’s ba­si­cally over. He’s one of the best. I was just kind of think­ing, hey, if I close out the eighth, we’re go­ing to have Ken­ley in there and fin­ish it off.’’

Tal­ent has never been an is­sue with Mor­row. Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don re­mem­bers Mor­row beat­ing his Rays team with a 17- strike­out one- hit­ter in 2010. He re­mem­bers it the way he might re­mem­ber a large kid­ney stone.

“I had never seen any­thing so dom­i­nant in my life,’’ he said.

Now it’s a mat­ter of see­ing if Mor­row can han­dle the pres­sure of be­ing a closer.

“I don’t think I should have any is­sues,’’ he said. “If there are prob­lems, it’s be­cause I’m not lo­cat­ing pitches at the time. I don’t think men­tally it will be too big for me. I’ve come a long way. I’m not a re­ally su­per- in­tense per­son, but I can keep my in­ten­sity level above the game [ and make sure] the sit­u­a­tion isn’t too big. I think I do a good job of min­i­miz­ing that.’’

Mad­don said he wants to give Mor­row lots of rest, es­pe­cially early in the sea­son, hop­ing he’ll be fresher later in the sea­son. He pitched in all seven World Se­ries games last year and strug­gled, giv­ing up five earned runs in 5„ in­nings.

He’s used to stress. He’s not used to the stress that will come with be­ing the Cubs’ closer. How he deals with it could mean ev­ery­thing.

For re­lief, he can look to his fel­low re­liev­ers. Last year, they cel­e­brated a big play by danc­ing in the bullpen. Will he?

“We’ll see,’’ he said. “I might be the awk­ward one in the cor­ner bob­bing my head.’’

Peo­ple aren’t ex­pect­ing River­dance, Brandon. How­ever, they might be ex­pect­ing Mar­i­ano Rivera.

| JOHN ANTONOFF/ FOR THE SUN- TIMES

Right- han­der Brandon Mor­row will be tak­ing over the Cubs’ closer role from Wade Davis, who signed with the Colorado Rock­ies as a free agent.

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