Origianlly published in June 2001 .. Now they both have had the same surgery ... hmmm .. interesting ..
Welcome Back .. Adam Eaton
On the final Sunday in June, those whose dexterity was confined to manipulating a remote control had opportunity to monitor performances by two of baseball's outstanding young pitchers.
At Dodger Stadium, Adam Eaton converted the Dodgers' lineup to mush -- tossing a three-hitter. Later, ESPN made available the Cardinals' Matt Morris, who -- after struggling early with control -- removed the sting from Giants bats.
To see Eaton and Morris back-to-back was to recognize similarities. Both throw in the mid-90s, have the type of slider that causes swings to collapse at midpoint, and a high strike-to-ball ratio. Morris' control problem that afternoon was the result of a fastball with so much movement it was darting off the plate.
Eaton and Morris are outstanding athletes who field their position extremely well. Eaton eventually will win a Gold Glove. Morris should be an annual candidate. Both have highly developed baseball instincts, and contribute with a bat. They can bunt, or make solid contact. On a team that has little speed from the bench, Eaton has become the preferred pinch runner.
Despite significance of the above components, the most arresting similarity is attitude. Both want the ball back from the catcher ... now. There's no backing off the mound between virtually every pitch to see if the heavens are properly aligned.
"When you see that, what you have are guys attempting to make physical adjustments mentally," Padres general manager Kevin Towers was saying yesterday.
There's none of that with Eaton or Morris, both throwbacks to days when great pitchers were borderline scornful of hitters. Fielders behind these guys remain alert because they know time between deliveries will be short.
Both exude confidence. Both began the season with teams that listed someone else as the rotation leader (Darryl Kile, St. Louis, Woody Williams, San Diego), and both have proved those ratings to be mythical.
During one stretch earlier in the season, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said of batters facing Morris, "It almost isn't fair." Approaching tonight's start in Cleveland, Morris is 10-4 with a 2.65 ERA for the underachieving Cardinals. Eaton's 8-5 record undoubtedly would be better if he weren't playing for a team whose defense so often betrays its pitchers.
Morris and Eaton share at least one other item. Neither has received much national recognition. "When you hear about the top young pitchers, it's usually Wade Miller in Houston or Freddy Garcia at Seattle," says Towers. "During a very short time in the major leagues, Adam has done enough to be recognized with the top group."
Coming as they did on a day when the dominant pitcher at the Q was the Rockies' Pedro Astacio, Towers' comments seemed even more reassuring of where Eaton is headed. There's no question that the strength of Eaton's arm and a 4.26 ERA are in conflict, and we know the reason. Yesterday, Eaton raised his home runs-surrendered statistic to 20. For results eventually to jibe with potential, that statistic needs to be sharply altered downward.
"To me, it's a location thing," Towers said. "The pitch quality is there. What needs to be tightened is location consistency."
With Eaton and Morris, time accrued in major league uniform is close. Morris was promoted to the Cardinals out of 1999 spring training, but suffered a surgery-requiring arm injury and missed nearly all of last season. Eaton rose from Class AA Mobile to the Padres last May, and was an immediate impact contributor.
"From day one at this level, Adam brought the attitude that he belonged," says Towers. "You have to remember that he signed (with the Phillies) directly out of high school. Matt Morris had three years at Seton Hall."
The prevailing sense in St. Louis is that had Morris been available as a starter last October, the NLCS between the Cardinals and Mets might very well have had a revised outcome. Morris has the look of a big-game pitcher, which Kile isn't.
If the Padres are to progress from their current fluctuating status to the role of contender and postseason participant they envision, then an Adam Eaton is vital to the pitching staff. He offers the fearless presence needed for elevated performance in October -- no Andy Ashby or Andy Benes, this guy.
"He sets the tempo of a game early," says Towers. "He's confident in all his pitches, thrives in pressure situations. No matter now many runners are on, he just keeps coming at you with quality stuff."
Yesterday's tempo wasn't what Eaton had in mind. The home runs, though, were struck by Todd Helton and Larry Walker, who've punished the best. And, after Walker's shot in the third inning, Eaton retired the next 10 hitters, including five of the first six on strikes.
For a time Eaton was in a zone La Russa would recognize as "almost unfair." sdunion 06/01/01