ZEBULON — Shawn Morimando has suddenly become about the hottest pitcher in the Carolina League.
And he’s doing it despite the fact his Carolina Mudcats are in last place.
The southpaw from Virginia Beach, who has won his last three decisions, was the CL’s pitcher of the week for games ending June 2.
The main reason for the recognition was a 20-inning scoreless streak from May 17 until Saturday night at Five County Stadium, when he got a quality start in a no-decision as the Mudcats lost in extra innings to the loaded Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
Morimando went 3 2/3 innings before the Pelicans got their first run, giving him the career best 23 2/3 straight scoreless frames.
“I think it’s awesome,” Morimando said of the streak. “I just tried not to think about it too much. I was trying to make good pitches, and trying to stay confident in all my pitches.
“When all your pitches are working, the hitters have to respect that you can come at them with the fastball, breaking ball or changeup. It catches them off guard.”
The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder out of Ocean Lakes High, who was the Cleveland Indians’ 19th-round pick in the 2011 draft, is 4-5 with a 2.94 ERA through 64 1/3 innings pitched. He has 43 strikeouts against 29 walks and a WHIP (that’s walks plus hits over innings pitched) of 1.20.
“To go that long without giving up a run you’re doing a lot of things right,” said Mudcats manager David Wallace, who was also Morimando’s manager at Lake County of the Midwest League last season. “Throwing fastballs in, off-speed in any count, is a big part of that. Having overall confidence and aggressiveness on the mound are what he needs to continue to do.
“There’s still room for improvement. But he’s done a good job of throwing his off-speed stuff for strikes, and that’s a very important part of his development.”
Morimando, who had signed with East Carolina before the Indians called his name, pitched six scoreless innings in the rookie Arizona League in 2011. Then last season he was with the Captains, going 7-6 with a 3.59 ERA and 69 strikeouts against 52 walks in 110 innings.
He had one complete game in low-A ball, where Jeff Harris – now with the Mudcats – was his pitching coach.
“That streak was pretty danged good,” Harris said of Morimando’s May. “But he’s focusing on the process and letting the results take care of themselves. He made a small adjustment in his delivery – staying back and driving out instead of jumping out – and he’s using his lower half better. So it’s constant delivery maintenance, and he’s focusing on attacking hitters now and using the stuff he’s got.
“He’s very athletic, and he’s able to do those things and make adjustments. And he’s communicating with the catchers more. I’m very impressed with the way he’s handling himself. I forget sometimes that he’s 20 years old.”
Morimando, who throws a fastball, changeup, curve and slider, fired a seven-inning complete game in a 5-0 road loss to the Potomac Nationals on April 30. During the streak, he made consecutive starts against the Wilmington Blue Rocks and allowed just one runner to third base in 13 innings.
“The challenge at this level has been seeing the teams over and over again,” Morimando said. “It’s a small league (with eight teams compared to 16 in the Midwest). Sometimes you see teams back-to-back. If a team gets you once, you want to come back with a new game plan every time and remember what worked and what didn’t work.”
One plus about playing for the Mudcats, Morimando said, is being closest to home. He said family members are in town for every one of his home starts.
“It’s a short drive, and they support me 100 percent,” said Morimando, who holds Ocean Lakes’ school records for strikeouts in a season (115) and a game (15). “Not everybody gets the opportunity to play professional baseball, and I’m trying to make the most of it.”