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Q&A: Justin Morneau on Cole's fastball, Greinke's eephus, Soto's takes

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Justin Morneau is more familiar than most with the various aces on display in the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals. In some cases, perhaps more familiar than he’d like to be.

Over the course of his 14 big-league seasons, the pitcher Morneau faced most often was Justin Verlander. He also saw more of Zack Greinke than he cares to remember and enough of Max Scherzer to establish a clear upper hand against his former off-season workout buddy (Morneau homered off two Scherzer change-ups in 2011 and took him deep again the following year). As for Gerrit Cole, Morneau played behind him as a rookie in Pittsburgh, long before he became the ace he is today.

When the World Series begins Tuesday, Morneau will be watching those starters closely, knowing that their performances will play a major role in determining who wins it all.

“People who complain about today’s game, self-proclaimed traditionalists, this is the kind of series they should be watching,” said Morneau, a four-time all-star and former AL MVP. “They’re going to ride these starting pitchers. They’re going to trust these lineups. We’re not going to see seven different lineups in seven World Series games. It’s one of those baseball matchups that rarely comes along: the two best rotations in baseball advanced to the World Series.”

In a phone conversation Monday, Morneau offered insight on those aces while also discussing his hitting approach, Juan Soto’s body language and Ryan Zimmerman’s long-awaited trip to the Fall Classic. Here’s a partially edited transcript of the conversation with Morneau, who will be analyzing the World Series on Sportsnet starting Tuesday.

Sportsnet: You stood in against Justin Verlander a lot over your years in the AL Central (.752 OPS with two HR in 67 plate appearances). What’s the challenge of facing him?

Justin Morneau: When he first came up, it was fastball-curveball. You could go through the at-bat expecting to get one of those two. Now his slider and changeup have gotten better, so he’s a four-pitch guy who knows how to pitch. It’s amazing that he’s been able to maintain his velocity, as he’s gotten older, better than almost anybody else in the game today. Usually it drops off as they get into their lower 30s, mid-30s, but he’s in the upper 90s and he’s got four weapons he can use in any count.

SN: At this point, Gerrit Cole might be the best pitcher in baseball. What can the Nationals do against him?

JM: He can overpower you at any point with his fastball. He’ll sit in the upper 90s with that fastball. Verlander will go back and forth. He can get 97 or 98 (m.p.h.) when he needs it, but he understands he can’t pitch there the whole game. Gerrit Cole will throw that fastball as hard as he can........

© Sportsnet