Daniel Moskos experienced a Jekyll-and-Hyde season in 2010. In 37 appearances for Double-A Altoona, he dominated Eastern League hitters, putting up a 1.52 ERA while logging 21 saves. It was a far different story in Triple-A Indianapolis, where the enigmatic left-hander lost all five decisions and posted an ugly 10.38 ERA in 19 appearances.
Pirates fans are all too familiar with Moskos’ story, as the personable southpaw was drafted fourth overall in 2007, one pick before the Orioles nabbed Matt Wieters. Through no fault of his own, the former Clemson closer came to represent the penurious draft strategy of the old Pittsburgh regime, and it didn’t help the cause when he went just 7-7, 5.59, as a starter in his first full professional season. He improved to 11-10, 3.74 the following year, but to frustrated Bucs fans he remains “The guy we wasted a first-round pick on.”
Moskos remains a legitimate big-league prospect, but the 2011 season nevertheless looms as a crossroads for the 24-year-old hurler. Only time will tell if he goes down in Pirates lore as a draft-day mistake or a hard-earned success story. Moskos talked about his tumultuous career, his maturation as a pitcher, and his plans to buy a dog, late in the 2010 season.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a pitcher?
Daniel Moskos: As a pitcher, I consider myself to be one of the more highly competitive guys out there, and that’s why I like being in the bullpen. I have that want-the-ball-when-the-game-is-on-the-line type of mentality. I try to go right after hitters with what I have—as far as my stuff goes—and use it to the best of my ability.
DL: You were used as a starter in 2008 and 2009. Why?
DM: They did that sort of as a developmental thing, basically to allow me to learn a little bit more about pitching rather than just relying on stuff so much. That way, once I developed—once I knew how to pitch—it would make my stuff that much better.
I think that it was a good transition and it’s something to do with all of your young pitchers. I really learned a lot of things about the game that I hadn’t really understood or comprehended when I was just a reliever. Knowing that now allows me to have a better grasp of the game. Now that I am a reliever again, I still see things differently, and that’s only going to be to my advantage.
DL: What specifically did you learn as a starter that will help you as a reliever?
DM: I just learned about pitching. You have to analyze hitters’ swings—what they’re trying to do as hitters—and you start to recognize swing paths. You’ll see a hitter and you’ll find out which pitches he struggles with by analyzing how they swing the bat. That’s something that I never really paid attention to when I was a reliever; it was just about getting three outs before they scored as many runs as what our lead was.
DL: Did your repertoire change as a starter?
DM: Definitely, and working with my changeup was big. It was a big pitch for me as a starter, and now it’s a pitch that I still use in the bullpen. It’s a third weapon.
I throw my changeup whenever need be, including when I fall behind. I use it more against right-handed hitters and it’s a pitch that I feel comfortable throwing a strike with, pretty much whenever I want. I can throw it a lot behind in the count, but I can also throw it ahead in the count. It has become a very good pitch for me.
DL: Did working as a starter help you learn to pitch more effectively without your best stuff?
DM: It did, because it’s definitely a big difference when you’re throwing every fifth day. You only have five or so starts a year where you actually feel really good when you take the mound. You’re not always at 100 percent.
Also, as a starter you have to try to pace yourself a little bit, so you’re not going with your best stuff on every pitch. You have to know how to pitch; you can’t just be a thrower. You can maybe get by on stuff alone for a few innings, but you can’t do it for seven.
DL: Were you effective without your best stuff?
DM: I had my ups and downs, but I think it made me a better pitcher in the long run, having to learn how to do that—how to get people out with less. If you can get people out with 88 [mph] you can get people out with 95. It’s just a matter of learning how to do it.
DL: How important is velocity to your game?
DM: Well, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be everything, but it’s still very important. What I was taught in college is that the three big things are location, movement, and velocity, with velocity being third on that tier. And in the time I spent at Triple-A, I really learned that lesson. When I was there, my stuff was fine, but my location wasn’t and I got hit around, and then I walked people. So I would say that velocity is important, but getting ahead and locating is even more important.
DL: Why was your location poor in Triple-A?
DM: I just tried to do too much, I think. I tried to become a pitcher who spots up, and I fell behind in counts, and then I’d give in. I kind of changed who I was; I changed my mentality. I think I was trying too hard to make a perfect pitch, every single pitch, and that’s not really who I am. When I started to realize that, toward the end, I began working to get back to where I was before I got called up.
DL: What is most important to you when you’re on the mound?
DM: Never giving up a lead. That’s my big thing. I hate blown saves, I hate allowing other people’s runs to score—inherited runners. I hate that. It’s the worst feeling in the world when you give up someone else’s run, and it’s even worse when you let your team down. Those are my big things. I like to pick my teammates up and pick my team up.
DL: Bad outings are inevitable for any pitcher. Are you able to walk away and forget them?
DM: In a way, you can’t. That night, you’re allowed to think about it, but the next day you’re not. You just have to flush it. As a reliever, you’re going to appear in 70 games a year, so if you have a bad one, or two bad ones, you can’t allow them to build on each other. You can think about it that night, and think about how you need to get better—what you can do to differently—and after that you have to flush it out of your memory. You can’t take it out to the mound with you the next time you go out there.
DL: Have you mastered the ability to do that?
DM: I don’t think you ever will, completely. You just have to do it to the best of your ability, and the ones that are really good at it are the ones who are really good at their jobs. I definitely allowed some of that to leak in, into consecutive outings, and that’s when I started thinking way too much. That’s when you’ll find that you struggle the most.
DL: Does the organization employ a sports-psychology coach?
DM: We do. You only see him a few times throughout the year, but you see him every day in spring training. That’s when the majority of the work is done; he has different classes and different seminars that you go to, and all of those spring training meetings are mandatory. If I wanted to use him throughout the year—if I wanted to have more access to him—I’m sure that I could. I have his phone number, so it would just be a matter of getting in touch with him if I felt that I needed to.
DL: Sports psychologists have told me that many players are reluctant to seek them out, because they are hesitant to show what might be perceived as a weakness.
DM: I could definitely see that. I’m sure that players are reluctant, because no one wants to admit that they need help, but I’m sure that they’re better for it when they do seek out the help.
DL: Given the combination of hype and criticism that you’ve encountered since being drafted, have there been psychological issues for you to deal with?
DM: (laughs) I wouldn’t consider myself to have psychological issues. I guess that I would consider myself a little bit of an oddball, but I think to be a late-innings reliever, you kind of have to be. It’s one of those things where it is rare to find people who want the ball when the game is on the line—to be put on that island and actually thrive and enjoy that nervousness and use it to your advantage. I don’t think there are a lot of people out there like that.
I don’t feel that I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself because I was a high draft pick. I put pressure on myself just because I don’t like to fail. Failure is something that I hate; I hate losing at anything. Card games, ping-pong, whatever it is, I don’t like to lose. So I don’t think anybody can put more pressure on themselves than I can, and it has nothing to do with where I was drafted. It’s just my personality.
DL: Personality-wise, are you a stereotypical left-hander?
DM: (laughs) Not so much as I would say [teammate] Rudy Owens is, but I definitely have some left-handed attributes. I’m a little bit weird. I listen to a bunch of different styles of music, everything from jam bands to heavy metal. So, I guess in that respect I’m a little bit off, kind of like some left-handed pitchers are.
DL: What do you want your persona to be when you step onto the mound?
DM: I want the other team to think, “Shit, the game is over.” That’s what I want my persona to be. I want them to know they have their work cut out for them before I even throw a pitch. I want them to know that when I come to the mound, I mean business and I’m going to get the job done.
DM: I don’t think I’d like to have that type of persona, but every closer has their thing. [Jonathan] Papelbon stares at the hitter with that look that he has; Mike Fetters had his breathing thing that he did; Valverde has his stuff; Francisco Rodriguez has the voodoo. So eventually I’ll find something that I make my signature that I’m comfortable with, but right now it’s more of how other people see me. I don’t really have any antics that I go with.
DL: Does a pitcher have a right to a persona if he hasn’t achieved a high level of success?
DM: I don’t know if you have a right to do certain things, or not, but respect is earned in this game. The guys who have been around for a longer period of time have earned the respect of the players they play against. It’s not that you can’t be yourself, but you can’t overdo it. You can’t be overbearing. You can’t try to buck the system, because there have been a thousand guys before you who have done what you’ve done.
DL: To close, what do you want fans to know about you?
DM: That I’m just a normal guy, and that I’d like to play for a winning Pittsburgh team. I think it would be awesome to play at PNC Park and get a chance to go to the playoffs. As far as me as a person, I like to golf, I love music, I have a girlfriend, I’m moving out to Scottsdale, Arizona, this offseason, and I’m probably going to get a dog. I might get a Weimaraner. Weimaraners are gray dogs with short hair and big ears. They also have blue eyes.
DL: Is that the perfect dog for you?
DM: For sure. They love their owners.