Kingsport, Tenn., wasn't fun for Akeel Morris, but the righthander is having a ball in Brooklyn.
After a 2012 season in Kingsport that any pitcher would rather forget, the 20-year-old righthander is absolutely thriving amid creaking rides at Coney Island.
His numbers through Thursday attest to that: 0.47 ERA and 191 strikeouts, or 11.3 per nine innings.
Exactly how does something like this happen? All he can do is flash his bright smile and say all the things players have said before.
"What changed for me is to really try to attack the strike zone and be aggressive with every pitch I throw," he said. "And I really work my off-speed off of my fastball."
Last year, the then-Mets Rookie League righthander started six games to kick off the 2012 campaign, going 0-5 along the way. One month later, after giving up 10 earned runs in two innings and being sent to the bullpen, Morris made five more appearances -- allowing two earned runs in 162/3 innings. He racked up two saves, an invitation to extended spring training and, eventually, a ticket out of Kingsport to the Class A Cyclones.
On Monday, in his first start of the season -- Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Staten Island Yankees at MCU Park -- he allowed no earned runs in five innings, walking three and striking out five. The Cyclones won, 3-2, in the seven-inning game before dropping the nightcap.
"In particular, my changeup was really working well today and I'm getting ahead of hitters with the fastball," he said after the doubleheader. "It was a little different, but I keep the same mind-set and routine, and it worked out well for me."
Morris spread the credit around but specifically mentioned the organization's minor-league pitching coordinator, Miguel Valdes. In extended spring training, Valdes "changed my mechanics and did a lot of work with me," he said.
"When I see myself getting out of control, I try to slow the game down and repeat my mechanics, and that was my biggest problem. Stay in control," he said.
He still can be a touch wild at times but uses his firepower -- a 96-mph fastball and a deceptive changeup, along with a serviceable curve -- to blast his way out of trouble.
It's something that impressed scouts in the early going, when he pitched high school ball in his home of St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. He was drafted in the 10th round in 2010 and came to the United States, where he pitched eight games for the Gulf Coast League Mets as a 17-year-old.
Though he floundered in a starting role last year, his future doesn't necessarily lie in the bullpen. This year, Morris has mostly been used in a piggyback role; he pitches consistently, usually every six days. It's a method used to stretch pitchers, gauge possible starters and give batters a different look the third time around.
"I mean, either which way , I want to do good at pitching," he said. "So whatever is best for me. I like starting, but whatever I do best, that's what I want to do."
These days, that's pretty much everything.