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Fightins closer Francisco Morales could be next reliever on fast track to Philadelphia

Francisco Morales will be the closer in Reading. (Cheryl Pursell)

READING — There’s a hint of deja vu in Baseballtown.

Converted starter Francisco Morales will open the 2022 season as the closer for the Reading Fightin Phils, manager Shawn Williams confirmed at the team’s media day on Tuesday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium. After a disappointing stint in Double-A last year, the high-octane righty will join the bullpen for the first time, sparking hope that Morales could become the latest R-Phils reliever to take the fast track to the majors.

“I think he’s really going to do well as a reliever,” Williams said. “He loves it. He’s looking forward to it. … He’s been a starter; I think he’s kind of always wanted to be a reliever. We’ll see what he can do.”

This is a formula that’s worked in Reading before. Prior to the 2018 season, the Phillies converted the hard-throwing Seranthony Domínguez into a reliever. The right-hander began the season with the Fightins, dominating in eight outings on his way to a promotion to Triple-A. Three appearances later, Domínguez cracked the majors.

Perhaps the transition could provide similar results for Morales.

“I’m not going to say it’s like Seranthony,” Williams said. “But once Seranthony went to the ‘pen, that was pretty darn good, too.”

Domínguez quickly became the most impactful member of the Phillies bullpen in his rookie season, posting a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings across 53 appearances and striking out 11.5 batters per nine. Expecting Morales, who had a 6.28 ERA in 24 minor-league outings in 2021, to dominate the way Domínguez did would be unfair. But if everything can click out of the bullpen for the 22-year-old, he could see a similar rise through the organization.

“I don’t want to compare them, because they’re not the same,” Williams said. “It’s just something that I see could happen with Morales.”

Morales will throw multiple innings in some games this season, but the majority of his appearances will come in the eight or ninth. Williams hopes shorter outings will allow his repertoire to shine. 

The right-hander struggled to keep his control deep into games last year, walking 6.6 batters per nine, and his changeup was inconsistent. As a closer, he can lean into his power four-seamer and wipeout slider combination at maximum effort.

“I think it’s going to play even better,” Williams said. “Maybe he’s more of a two-pitch pitcher, where he’s fastball-slider. He’s got such a good slider. He can utilize that for one inning, let it eat with his fastball and really have some success doing it.”

Morales had a solid spring as he embraced his new role, and he continued to impress on Sunday in a scrimmage against the Triple-A IronPigs at Coca-Cola Park. If he pitches well early in the season, another trip to Allentown — or even one to Philadelphia — might not be that far off.

Williams mentioned Domínguez as the most obvious example of a quick riser, but JD Hammer was another pitcher he named who had jumped from the Fightins to the Phillies in a short period. Hammer started the 2019 season in Reading, excelled in 13 games there and broke into the majors after one Triple-A outing. 

When the Phillies identify a minor-league arm that could help their club in the bigs, they tend to move them swiftly. Morales could be the next on that path, as long as he performs in relief.

“It could be really special,” Williams said. “Clear out of the ‘pen for one inning and see what happens.”


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