St. Thomas’ Akeel Morris Called Up To The Big Leagues By The Atlanta Braves
WASHINGTON — The Braves continued their bullpen shuffle Friday by bringing up two right-handers from the minor leagues, including Akeel Morris of St. Thomas.
When they recalled the former New York Mets reliever Morris from Double-A Mississippi, they sent down right-hander Brandon Cunniff and designated Roberto Hernandez for assignment after the journeyman gave up five runs and three homers in the first four innings of Thursday’s loss at Milwaukee.
Morris, 23, came from the Mets in a June 8 trade for Kelly Johnson and had a 2.78 ERA in 18 appearances at Mississippi. In 40 combined appearances with the Mets’ and Braves’ Double-A affiliates this season, he’s 5-2 with a 3.75 ERA and has an eye-opening 66 strikeouts with 33 walks and four homers allowed in 48 innings.
“They really like him,” Snitker said. “I think it’s command of his fastball, I guess, is the thing he’s got to do. He’s a roster guy, so just to bring him up is an easy call-up, really.”
Morris pitched in one game in the majors last season for the Mets and gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in two-thirds of an inning, leaving him with a 67.50 ERA as he begins his second big-league stint.
“Very memorable,” he said, smiling when asked about his one previous major league game. “Learning experience from it all. I’m glad to be back, though. … Had the opportunity here. Love the organization so far, it’s been great. And I’m excited to get out there and pitch.”
One of only 14 players from the U.S. Virgin Islands to make it to the big leagues, Morris said the trade to the Braves was a good for him in more ways than one.
“The Southern League, playing down there, was a change of scenery,” he said. “The Eastern League, first of all the weather, it was really cold starting out. It was good to get back in the Southern (climate).”
And he continued to work with Double-A Mississippi pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn on adjustments Morris had begun to make when he was still with the Mets.
“Fastball command is what I initially worked on,” he said, “but I also learned throughout the season that my change-up — sometimes I get hurt by it and I learned why. So basically, try to keep it down and throw it in the right counts. That’s something I didn’t think about and I learned this year. It was happening a little earlier this season, before I got traded. And I saw it happening over and over again when I got traded, in Mississippi.
“Kind of made an adjustment and noticed that, it’s a great pitch for me, but it can also get me in trouble as well. So I learned to use it when needed.”
Hursh, 24, was a first-round draft pick for the Braves in 2013 and a former top starting-pitcher prospect who was converted to a relief role last season.
He had pitched seven scoreless innings in three relief appearances since he was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, after posting a 2.05 ERA in 35 appearances at Mississippi. He has 45 strikeouts and 26 walks in a combined 64 relief innings this season.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said Hursh, after walking off the field with Morris following an afternoon workout at Nationals Park before Friday’s series opener. “You get the call and it’s kind of, ‘All right here you go, get on a plane, you’re meeting them there,’ flying to D.C. and everything. When I got the call it was awesome.
“I don’t think it really hit me until I went out and stretched today and everything. But now it’s setting in, it’s pretty cool.”
He took the 4o-man roster spot of Hernandez, while Morris already was on the 40-man roster.
“(Hursh) always had a big arm,” said Braves interim manager Brian Snitker, who had Hursh on the Gwinnett team late last season when Snitker was its manager. “I guess his consistency has been a lot better. He’s throwing the ball real well, so he’s going to get a crack.”
Hursh was switched to a bullpen role last season after his development as a starter stalled. The Braves thought his mid-90s fastball and slider combination might work better in a bullpen role where he could let it fly and not worry so much about pacing himself. Whether he agreed at the time, Hursh believes now the move was smart.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve kind of found out what kind of pitcher I was there out of the ’pen. I’m just more of a sinker-slider guy, added a little split-finger change-up, and it’s really been very beneficial to me. I’ve had some success (as a reliever), so it’s been cool to see that. Enjoying the bullpen role and just trying to embrace it all.”