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In start, Morales shows glimpse of restoration

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-hander Franklin Morales' first Spring Training start had its mini-challenges, which he faced down easily. Two walks and a double in two innings of an 11-0 victory vs. the D-backs on Friday, but no runs. No big deal. It served merely as the starting block for his pursuit of a spot in the starting rotation.

If nothing else, though, it served as an introduction to a Morales who is different from the pitcher seen around these parts from 2007-11. The jersey No. 56 is the same, but the player wearing it is different for the better.

Injuries forced Morales into starting duties late in 2007, and he was a part of the Rockies' stunning run that ended in the World Series. But his youth and lack of composure and control led to a move to the bullpen and eventually to the Red Sox, for whom he pitched capably while working mostly out of the 'pen.

But Morales, traded back to the Rockies this past offseason, is out to prove he has grown into the starter role that was too big for him way back when. Morales throws the ball as hard as he did then, but he has honed his secondary pitches and exudes a new calmness.

"I'm the same power pitcher -- my first pitch is my fastball -- but right now I have more control and more location with my other pitches," Morales said. "Now I've got a cutter, a split-finger, and I can use them in any count.

"When you're young, you try to do too much. You put too many things in your head. Now what I try to do is put my thoughts in the game and let it go. It's different now mentally. Now I try to make my pitches. Before, I threw the ball hard and didn't know where it was going."

That control will need work. His 36 pitches (21 for strikes) is too high a total for a starter -- especially for the Rockies, who will keep a tight limit on Morales' pitch count and raise it only moderately as the season progresses. The Rockies also know he can go to the bullpen for any role if they do not like him as a starter.

But there was something to be said for Morales' refusal to be flustered on Friday. After walking Gerardo Parra with one out in the first, he forced Chris Owings into a double-play grounder on a sinker to the outside. In the second, Matt Tuiasosopo doubled with one out, and Cliff Pennington drew a walk with two down, but Morales dialed up a four-seam fastball to the outside to make Henry Blanco ground harmlessly.

"I feel healthy this year; I have my control," Morales said. "And I know what I'm doing."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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