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February 25, 2017

Adam Morgan wonders what side of the bed Clayton Kershaw sleeps on (and is eager for likely 'pen job)

CLEARWATER, Fla. – During the final five weeks of the 2016 season, many pitchers on the Phillies staff picked the brain of veteran catcher A.J. Ellis, who had come over from Los Angeles in the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers.

But left-hander Adam Morgan was especially interested in Ellis’s work as the personal catcher for the best pitcher on the planet, fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw.

“What he did, how’d he go about things,” Morgan said Saturday of his conversations with Ellis, which have continued despite Ellis signing with the Miami Marlins this winter. “It sounds simple, but, ‘What did he have for breakfast, how many times did he lift?’ I mean, gosh, that guy’s a freak. He’s awesome. ‘Does he sleep on his right or his left side?’”

Copying Clayton Kershaw’s regiment will not turn Adam Morgan into a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher, of course. But as he tries to cement a permanent spot on a major league roster, something he struggled to do during the 2016 season, Morgan will take any edge or advice he can get.

Morgan’s bid for a spot on the Phillies' Opening Day roster began by throwing two shutout innings against the New York Yankees in a 6-5 win on Saturday at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla.

Morgan faced seven batters, giving up a pair of singles and striking out one. He also made a nifty stop on a hard comebacker to begin a 1-6-3 double play in the second inning.

Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, has made 36 starts for the Phillies in the last two seasons (with a 5.43 ERA in those starts). With five starters etched into rotation roles with the Phillies and a large crop of rising right-handers either ready for the major leagues, too, or slated to compete in a crowded field for a rotation job at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, all signs point to Morgan landing in the bullpen at some point in the next month.

“I think my mindset right now is to show to whoever needs to see that I can be an asset to this team, anywhere. I’m just keeping it simple it that way, not trying to go out for the fifth spot."

Although no one in the front office or coaching staff has said as much to Morgan, manager Pete Mackanin said Saturday that the pitcher was a “definite” bullpen candidate.

“I think my mindset right now is to show to whoever needs to see that I can be an asset to this team, anywhere,” said Morgan, who competed with Vince Velasquez for the vacant fifth starter job last spring. “I’m just keeping it simple it that way, not trying to go out for the fifth spot. If the fifth spot opens up then yeah I’d be more than willing to do that, if they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to be in the bullpen. If they need a backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher. Any place on this team, I hope to be there.”

Morgan would also seem to be an obvious fit in the Phillies bullpen because of the dearth of left-handed options in camp. There are 30 pitchers in major league camp but only five left-handers: Morgan, reliever Joely Rodriguez, starter Elniery Garcia, and non-roster pitchers Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos.

Mackanin said he would prefer to have two left-handers in his bullpen.

Rodriguez impressed late last season (and threw a shutout inning on Saturday) but his major league resume is still limited to just 12 games. He remains a favorite for one of the seven spots in the ‘pen.

Burnett, a 34-year-old veteran of nine major league seasons and a two-time Tommy John surgery survivor, struggled in his spring debut on Friday when he allowed two runs on two hits in Tampa against the Yankees. Ramos was unimpressive in an inning on Saturday.

Morgan has made just two appearances out of the bullpen with the Phillies and only two more in five seasons in the minor leagues. But he said he enjoyed his two-week stay as a member of the Phils’ relief corps in the middle of last summer, before being sent to Triple-A and then rejoining the big league rotation at the end of the season.

“Every time the phone rang down there I was just on high alert,” Morgan said. “It was just awesome. It’s a rush down there. So I think it’s fun. It’s fun to go down there and not know when you’re going to go in, (no matter) what situation it is.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21