Feb. 27, 2013
By Matt Stypulkoski, UConn ’14
Baseball, at its very core, is a game based on individual talent. As much as it may be considered a team sport, the game is inherently “lonely” at times, as UConn Head Coach Jim Penders described it.
Only one man is standing on the mound, and only one man is standing in the batter’s box. When the ball is put in play, only one man can field the ground ball or catch a pop-up.
Yes, baseball requires a team effort of nine players working together. But it also relies heavily on the standalone skill of each player. And often times, the skills required at each position can be vastly different.
A pitcher, for the most part, does just that – pitch – while those behind him must be able to play the field, hit and run.
So what, then, happens when a player makes such a drastic change in position, such a drastic change in style?
That’s what senior Ryan Moore – who has spent most of the last three years in the outfield, but is now patrolling the bullpen – is going to find out this season.
So far, the mental challenge has been the toughest part.
“The toughest part is not being a one-position player. It’s kind of boring,” Moore said of the transition he has made from the outfield to the bullpen this season. “I’m not used to it. I’m used to being everywhere all the time, hitting, running, throwing…and you become and you know, you throw one day and you might not throw for five.”
Penders, too, knows that such a change is difficult, but that has not stopped him from throwing Moore into the fire to start the season. So far, he has the right-handed senior slated to be his late-innings guy, his closer.
“He hasn’t been in those situations before; you never really know how you’re going to handle them until you’re in them,” Penders said of Moore closing out a ballgame. “It’s like trying to dismantle a bomb, how are you going to handle that pressure until you’ve actually done it once?”
Well, through two weekends of play so far, Moore has handled the demands associated with the big moment with relative ease.
He has not yet faced a save situation, but in both of his appearances this season, Moore has pitched in extra innings and faced the pressure of keeping the game alive.
In those two appearances he has thrived and thrown 4 scoreless innings to go with six strikeouts and just one hit allowed.
“He was effective,” Penders said after Moore’s first appearance of the season. “He got into a little bit of trouble, of his own making, but he got out of it – that’s a good sign. He had some adversity that first outing, it was a tight situation, if he gives up a run, the game is over and he didn’t give up that run and looked good doing it. He’s handled it pretty well.”
Truth be told, the transition for Moore isn’t as stark a transition as it might be for most position players trying to make the jump to the mound.
Despite the fact that he’s spent the majority of his career playing the field for the Huskies, Moore did pitch 23 times over his first three seasons in Storrs, and came into the fold as a two-way player.
The only difference this season is that instead of splitting time between the outfield and staying sharp on the hill in case he is needed, he’ll be focusing entirely on his pitching duties from mid-February until the end of the season.
And in reality, the focus on his pitching started far earlier than just the past few weekends and the training camp that led up to them. This past summer, which Moore spent in Cape Cod, was also designated to perfecting his craft on the mound.
“It was difficult, it’s one of the best leagues in the country,” Moore said of the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League. “It’s not easy to just switch positions and expect to feel superb; it was a learning experience for me.”
During that learning experience, Moore spent 14 innings on the mound – he made two starts and eight relief appearances – and struck out 11 batters.
That impressive strikeout ability has blossomed in the first two weeks of the new season, as he has struck out 43 percent of the hitters he has faced.
“Most people think that I’m just a fastball pitcher, you know, because I’ve been playing those two positions,” Moore said. “But I don’t have just that one pitch. I do have my fastball, but I’ve really been working on my slider. On one of my strikeouts I threw five sliders in a row. So [my out-pitch] has definitely got to be the slider.”
The slider, in addition to his two and four-seam fastballs that typically hover in the 90-92 mph range, Penders said, is what has made Moore dangerous.
“His slider’s come a long way,” Penders said. “And that’s really what we looked at over the fall and said, ‘You know what, this guy has the stuff to be a closer, now let’s see if he has the mentality to be a closer.’”
Hopefully for Moore, that maturation process and ability to develop pitches will continue throughout the season, both for his team’s sake and his own.
Beyond this season, after leaving UConn, both he and Penders say they envision him as more of a pitcher than a position player. His abilities on the mound are what give him the best chance at a career in the game.
And as far as this season goes, the strength of the Huskies’ bullpen, and a great deal of their success, hinges on Moore’s ability to adapt.
So while the game may seem lonely in the heat of the moment, he’s sure to have a dugout full of teammates pulling for him on every pitch.
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