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Morris fighting to regain form for Giants

PHOENIX &

Matt Morris felt his body betraying him again Saturday, though not in the same ways that turned his first season with the San Francisco Giants into such a disappointment.

Nearly every pitch Morris threw in his spring training debut felt wrong, from his windup to its destination. The right-hander repeatedly left the simplest deliveries hanging over the plate &

and the Milwaukee Brewers pounded him for seven runs in — 2-3 innings.

For a veteran starting pitcher planning a big comeback this season, the shellacking was a shock.

"This is the last thing I was expecting," Morris said with a grimace as he slumped on a metal chair in the otherwise empty visitors' clubhouse at the Brewers' spring training complex.

"I know this doesn't count, and everybody is working on stuff, but I went out there to make some pitches and get some results, and I didn't do either."

Morris' initial spring numbers were even worse than most of his performances last season, when he started slowly and then battled through the final three months of a 10-15 campaign with a broken rib that went undiagnosed until late in the year.

With a career-high 4.98 ERA and awful run support (4.2 runs per nine innings) from San Francisco's lineup, Morris endured the toughest six months of his career &

and ended up with his first losing record.

And he was still recovering at home in Florida when his former St. Louis teammates won the World Series without him. It was one last cosmic jab from a brutal season, though he insists he's happy for his closest pals after spending 11 seasons in the Cardinals' organization, winning 101 big league games.

"There's a ton of guys over there that I'm great friends with," Morris said. "Friends are friends. In this game, sometimes you're lucky if you get two or three friends on a team, and I have a handful of them over there. I made sure they knew before games, or during games, what I was thinking. I was pumped up for them.

"My wife wasn't as happy. She was a little bummed."

Though Morris only returned recently from a serious bout of the flu that has weakened much of San Francisco's roster, he blamed his mechanics for his mistakes against the Brewers. He felt his muscle memory replicating last season's improper form.

He faced 14 batters and retired only five, walking four and yielding five hits &

and even throwing a wild pitch for good measure.

Manager Bruce Bochy didn't share Morris' disgust when he removed the pitcher during the second inning after more than 50 pitches. After years of watching Morris in the NL, the Giants' new skipper knows what he's got in the right-hander.

"He's a little spent still from the flu, and he's lost some weight," Bochy said. "He'll get stronger. It's pretty obvious he's a little weak right now. He's smart enough to know he's been through a lot. He's on his way, and he'll get it going."

After his rib healed in November, Morris spent much of the offseason hard at work, determined to be a steady contributor to a rotation that needs his help. Despite this bleak debut on a balmy day in suburban Phoenix, Morris has ample reason to be optimistic that he can recapture the form he showed as a durable starter in St. Louis.

"I try not to draw any motivation from anywhere except my team," Morris said. "I'm not out there trying to prove somebody wrong, or be something I'm not. I'm just trying to address what I need to do to help the Giants. It's not about me."

Morris is facing only a fraction of the pressure and pain of his first year with the Giants, who signed him to a three-year, $27 million contract before last season.

That deal seemed big &

until new teammate Barry Zito got $99 million more during this offseason. With Zito and rising star Matt Cain at the front of the rotation, Morris is farther from the spotlight, free to make his regular turn while serving as a steady, veteran influence on Cain, in his second full season.

Morris' ribcage is healed, curing the back pain that caused many of his mechanical problems. He thought his bullpen sessions had been strong before his terrible debut &

but after 239 career starts, Morris has experience in fixing almost everything that can go wrong.

"It's the same thing every year, every time," Morris said. "When you're in a funk, it's usually the same couple of things that happen. It's almost like your body's muscle memory remembers that more, instead of throwing well. ... I'll just go back to the bullpen and work on it."