April 26, 2012
On the Beat
Jim Tracy is a man of many words. The Rockies manager can wax poetic about many of his players, both past and present, and is more than willing to give long and thoughtful answers to all baseball-related questions. However, when it comes to describing his number-two starter, Tracy keeps coming back to one word.
"Amazing," Tracy said. "Truly amazing."
Is there really any other way to describe left-hander Jamie Moyer? At age 49, he went to the Rockies' spring training camp as a non-roster invitee and won a spot in the rotation. And that came after he sat out last season while recovery from Tommy John surgery.
While fanciers of sabermetrics know that pitcher wins really don't mean anything, the victory Moyer was credited with against the Padres on April 17 was different. It was significant because Moyer set the record for being the oldest pitcher to win a major-league game.
"It was pretty neat," Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "It was not something we were consciously thinking about during the game, but after it was over and you sat back and thought about it for a minute, well, it was really cool. I can't image playing in the major leagues when I'm 49. I wouldn't even want to play when I'm 49 because I wouldn't want to subject my body to do all the things you have to do to be able to physically compete at this level. I know how different my body felt at 25 as compared to 20. What Jamie is doing is amazing."
There's that word again.
To put into perspective how long Moyer has played, let's go back to June 16, 1986, when he made his major-league debut by pitching for the Cubs against the Phillies at Wrigley Field. Moyer's catcher that day was Steve Lake, and the rest of the Cubs’ lineup included first baseman Leon Durham, second baseman Ryne Sandberg, third baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Shawon Dunston, left fielder Gary Matthews, center fielder Jerry Mumphrey, and right fielder Keith Moreland.
The last of those Cubs to appear in a major-league game was Dunston, and that was in 2002. Moyer has outlasted them all by at least a decade.
Yet while everyone else who appeared in that game has long put their playing days in the rearview mirror, Moyer keeps plugging away. He also has been relatively effective in his first four starts and 23 <fra>2/3</fra> innings, posting a fine 2.28 ERA, though his 4.24 FIP suggests the earned run average is due for some correction.
"Jamie wasn't given anything. He pitched his way onto the club in spring training," Tracy said. "We ventured into this feeling if he was still capable of competing at the major-league level every fifth day that he would not only benefit us from a pitching standpoint but also in the dugout, where he could influence our young pitchers like (Jhoulys) Chacin, (Juan) Nicasio, (Drew) Pomeranz, and (Rex) Brothers, among others. He has done everything we could have hoped for when we signed him."
Brothers, the 24-year-old hard-throwing left-handed reliever was born 18 months after Moyer's major-league debut. He has quickly learned how valuable Moyer is as a resource.
"He's been through everything in his career, and you can't help but want to talk to him and learn as much as you can about pitching and his experiences in the big leagues," Brothers said. "The great thing about him is that he is so willing to share his knowledge with us. We gravitate to him and act like sponges, soaking up everything he has to offer."
Brothers and some of the Rockies' other young pitchers say that the most valuable lesson they are learning from Moyer is the importance of preparation. Moyer is in excellent physical shape but also prepared mentally for each start, studying scouting reports and statistical tendencies in an attempt to gain an edge in his attempt to overcome the fact his fastball has yet to reach 80 mph this season.
"The thinking part doesn't change at all, especially with my style of pitching," Moyer said. "I didn't overpower hitters when I was a rookie. This is the way I've always had to be. It's all about making pitches."
Most men pushing 50 can't throw a baseball 60 feet, six inches. I'm 48, and it can be a chore to walk about 60 feet, six inches from my recliner to the refrigerator. Yet Moyer, at least in the early weeks of the season, looks like he can pitch into infinity with his rebuilt arm.
"I try to not to put the cart before the horse and look too far into the future," Moyer said. "It's a long season and I'm just hoping my body will allow itself to recover as it has so far and I can stay away from any kind of hamstring or ankle or back type of issue, something that could set me back. The most important day for me is the day after I pitch and how I feel then. That's ultimately what's going to determine how long I can keep pitching."
A few minutes with Cardinals manager Mike Matheny:
On what it's like beginning his managerial career at the major-league level: "Every day, something new presents itself. Every day brings a different challenge. From that standpoint, though it hasn't been a surprise. I talked to a lot of people who have done this job for a long time, and they said that the one thing about being a manager is that once you think you seen or handled every situation, something new comes along. There are going to be challenges every day in this job."
On the pressure of taking over a team that won the World Series last season and replacing a legend in Tony La Russa: "It's all in your perspective. I don't make more out of what I'm doing than there is because it would be a disadvantage to (the players). I look at this as an opportunity to fill a position that was available with this team and a chance to keep the momentum going that this organization has already established. A team usually needs a new manager because it is having problems. I'm fortunate that I am managing a team and in an organization that doesn't have any big problems."
On how the Cardinals are succeeding despite losing franchise icon Albert Pujols to free agency in December: "I know there were some dire predictions after we lost Albert, but we aren't much into predictions here. Our hitters have been just going about their business and not trying to make up for Albert not being here. They've had a good approach at the plate and stayed pretty true to what they're trying to accomplish. All I ask is they just keep doing what they're doing and not get outside themselves and try to do too much. The approach we've taken has worked so far."
On how much he uses statistical information in his decision-making process: "We get so much stuff every day that my eyes almost tear up from reading it all. I put value to it, but I don't think it's the whole recipe but rather one of the ingredients. You use it as a valuable asset. You look at the matchups, you go through the numbers to see if they might validate some of your suspicions about your team or certain players. Our coaches and I go over the numbers every day, try to figure out what the opponents' tendencies are, how players are performing in certain situations, how it might be affecting their psyche. There are certainly many things the numbers can tell you."
Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard: "About 99 percent of the time I'm of the belief that your best pitchers should be starters. Considering the Red Sox' current situation, though, I'd go against that line of thinking in their case and make Bard the closer. When no lead is ever safe like it's been for the Red Sox, it really kills a team's confidence. That's why I'd make Bard my closer, bring Aaron Cook up from Pawtucket to fill in the starting rotation, then build my bullpen backward from Bard."
Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier: "Matt Kemp is playing out of his mind, but don't overlook what Ethier is doing. That lineup isn't very deep and Kemp, as great as he is, can't carry the entire load. They need to have a big season from Ethier, too, if they're going to win their division. He looks healthy and locked in."
Royals second baseman Chris Getz: "I have no idea why he is their starting second baseman. And why in the world is he hitting leadoff?"
Tigers second baseman Brandon Inge: "It's time the Tigers put him out of his misery and release him. It's painful to watch him hit. He has no bat speed left. He's a great guy but not great enough to keep on the major-league roster of a team with designs on winning the World Series."
White Sox third baseman Brent Morel: "He's been a major disappointment. He had the big September last year to salvage something out of the season, but he has gone backward. He just swings at everything and gets himself out more than the pitchers get him out. I really don't know how much longer the White Sox can keep running him out there."