When he was called up from the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs back in late April to take the place of the injured Charlie Morton in the starting rotation, Adam Morgan became the only left-hander in that rotation.
It seemed like a good development. Not the Morton injury, of course, but that the Phillies could reach into their minor league system and replace him with somehow who not only could fill the role competitively, but who also provided that lefty option in a rotation stocked with right-handers.
A year ago, Morgan finally made his big league debut after battling injuries through parts of five minor league seasons after the Phillies had made him their 3rd round selection in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Alabama.
In his minor league time, Morgan went 14-29 with a 3.54 ERA, allowing 369 hits over 376.2 innings with a 322/110 K:BB ratio.
With the addition of Morton and Jeremy Hellickson to the rotation this past off-season, and with young incumbents Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff virtually penned into the 2016 rotation, Morgan appeared to be battling Brett Oberholtzer for the lone left-handed starter role back in spring training.
However, both were passed by newcomer Vincent Velasquez, who dominated the Grapefruit League, sending Oberholtzer to the bullpen due to the fact that he had no minor league options left.
Morgan on the other hand did have options, and so was sent back to Lehigh Valley. There he went 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA, allowing 19 hits over 17.2 innings with a 20/4 K:BB ratio.
When Morton went down, Morgan was the logical choice to replace him, and frankly had earned the opportunity.
Flash forward a full month, and Morgan is blowing that golden opportunity to solidify a place in the Phillies rebuilding future, at least as a regular in the big league rotation.
Morgan simply cannot seem to put together strong consecutive outings. Since striking out seven and allowing five hits over five solid innings in his first start of the season, he has failed to reach the 5th inning in every other alternating start.
He lasted just four innings in his next outing at Saint Louis, allowing three earned runs on six hits and two walks. Morgan followed that up with his best start, allowing one earned on just four hits over a seven inning effort at Atlanta.
The very next start, Morgan was bombed for seven earned runs on eight hits and three walks over just 3.2 innings at home against the Reds. That was followed by a six inning outing in which he yielded just two earned and four hits against the Braves.
Then came yesterday, and his shelling at the hands of the Chicago Cubs. Morgan allowed six earned on eight hits over just four innings. Up, down. Up, down. That is now developing as the Morgan pattern. Consistently inconsistent.
Perhaps a year ago, the Phillies could have lived with this, and given the now 26-year old a much longer leash. However, we are a year further along in the club’s rebuilding plan. There are other options now, and they are coming fast.
22-year old righty Zach Eflin is now 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA at AAA, and looking more dominant with each outing. He has allowed just 34 hits over 52.2 innings across eight starts with a 45/8 K:BB ratio.
The club’s top-ranked pitching prospect is another 22-year old right-hander, Jake Thompson. He is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA and has allowed 44 hits over 51.2 innings with a 40/16 K:BB and has been looking better with each start.
24-year old Ben Lively began the season by dominating at AA Reading, and has just earned a promotion to Lehigh Valley where he was strong in his first AAA start just last night. He is going to be ready for his shot in Philly soon if these types of outings continue.
Alec Asher, a 24-year old righty who looked entirely overmatched in a cameo with the Phillies at the end of last season, has been born again hard back in the minors.
Asher began the year with AA Reading, pitched well, and was promoted to Lehigh Valley. He has a combined 4-2 mark with a 2.30 ERA, allowing just 39 hits over 54.2 innings and could be the first to get an opportunity.
There is an even more interesting option, should the Phillies choose to exercise it at some point. Former reliever James Russell is being given an opportunity to start. The lefty allowed just one hit in four shutout innings, striking out four and walking no one in his first start a week ago.
The point is that the Phillies have good options ready to step up and take advantage of their own opportunity when called upon.
Morgan would be scheduled to take the mound next on Wednesday at home against the division-rival Washington Nationals. The odds are that he gets to make that start.
He is a starter, that much appears certain for now. He has the repertoire, and he has the experience. He could re-emerge as a lefty relief option, but it is probably too soon to go in that direction.
The club has other options in the pen, including a nearly ready lefty reliever in the rehabbing Mario Hollands.
If demoted, Morgan is going to have to return to AAA and either re-establish himself as a consistent starter, waiting for another shot, or re-invent himself as a valuable lefty relief option.
But the odds are strong that, barring a sudden run of consistently solid performances, Morgan is living on borrowed big league time, at least as a starting pitcher.