Cubs’ Christopher Morel adjusting to league that has taken notice of him
Morel hit a two-run homer in the victory against the Reds on Wednesday after Cubs manager David Ross moved him to the bottom of the batting order.
By now, all of Major League Baseball has access to information on the kind of damage Cubs rookie Christopher Morel can do with a fastball. And Morel knows even better.
“Sometimes he wants to hit 600-foot homers,” Cubs assistant coach Juan Cabreja told the Sun-Times, “instead of like 400-foot homers — that’s OK.”
What about 429-foot homers? That’s how far Morel launched a sixth-inning home run in the Cubs’ 8-3 victory against the Reds on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
The multihit game showed how effective Morel can be even as he’s adjusting at the plate to opposing pitchers’ shift in approach against him.
Cubs manager David Ross moved Morel to the ninth spot in the batting order as he adjusts. For over a month Morel had served as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter in every game he played, but he’d posted a sub-.200 batting average in the last two and a half weeks.
“That 9-hole can be a second leadoff guy at times,” Ross said. “And, one, just taking one of those at-bats away in an area where he’s putting a lot of pressure on himself, swinging and missing. Try to get his timing back, let the game come to him a little bit more.”
Struggles are relative, and even before Wednesday, Morel had recorded hits in six of his last seven games. But the Cubs — and the rest of MLB — witnessed what Morel is capable of with a hot bat when he started his career with a 22-game on-base streak.
“This is just your typical guy getting into the big leagues, having some success, and especially at the top of the lineup, he’s on the radar,” Ross said last week.
The higher a hitter is on opposing teams’ radars, the more attention they’re paying to potential weaknesses.
“Especially on first pitch, people are a little bit more careful with him,” Cubs hitting coach Greg Brown said, “because they know he’s ready to hit right out of the box.”
So they’re not challenging him with a fastball in the strike zone.
The Cubs’ series against the Cardinals last weekend was an exaggerated example of how pitchers have adjusted to the rookie as he has begun to establish himself in the majors. Over the course of three games, Morel saw 36 breaking balls compared to 22 fastballs, according to Statcast.
With that approach, the Cardinals limited Morel to two hits, both singles. The first was off a fastball and the second a slider.
“They’re definitely focusing more on throwing breaking stuff early in counts against me,” Morel said through team interpreter Will Nadal. “I’ll keep working on that, just practicing, making sure that whenever they’re throwing breaking stuff at me that I’m able to identify, adjust and make them pay.”
Entering Wednesday, Morel was batting .207 against breaking balls. But he has done more damage on fastballs, according to Statcast.
“The goal would be as he grows, he’s going to recognize the sliders that he wants to hit versus the ones he doesn’t,” Brown said. “Or what lane he wants the heater in. Those are just things that I think are going to come with time.”
Morel battled to get his pitch against Reds reliever Ross Detwiler in the sixth inning. Detwiler threw mostly cutters to Morel, and Morel, exercising patience, watched the first five pitches to get to a 3-2 count.
He fouled off another cutter to keep the at-bat going. Then he turned on a cutter low and inside to send a towering home run into the left-field bleachers.