Pirates' bust Moss resurrects career in Oakland
Three years ago, the Pirates lost patience with Brandon Moss and sent him to the minors before releasing him.
That's when Moss looked at the wreckage of his career and admitted what he perceived to be the truth:
“I thought I was done,” he said. “You start to wonder.”
Yet there he was, back at PNC Park on Tuesday night, hitting a two-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Oakland Athletics a 2-1 victory over the Pirates while he seized the team's home run lead with 16.
Moss did more than provide the muscle to put the ball into the right-field bleachers, something he did only once in three seasons in Pittsburgh. He gave the at-bat some careful thought and was expecting a changeup from Pirates hard-throwing rookie starter Gerrit Cole — and he got it.
Cole used a changeup to get a strike on Moss in the second inning — leading to a strikeout — and Moss said he expected it again in the fourth.
“The at-bat before, I was really jumpy because he threw hard and I wanted to make sure I was on time,” Moss said. “With a runner in scoring position and two outs, I figured he was probably going to go with (the changeup) again.
“It helped me to calm down a little. I felt like looking for the changeup would slow me down, and it did.”Before Tuesday's game, Moss was pleased about another second chance — this one put his major league career back on track. And he has Pirates general manager Neal Huntington and assistant hitting coach Jeff Branson to thank.
After a miserable 2009 when he hit .236 with seven homers and 84 strikeouts in 133 games, Moss started the next season hitting .154. The Pirates had seen enough.
Before Huntington shipped Moss to Indianapolis, he sat him down, wished him well and — with a few choice words — saved his career.
“He said, ‘If you ever get out of your own way, you will be able to play here,' ” Moss said, recalling the conversation. “ ‘You have the ability.' ”
Moss said he had no identity as a hitter and kept answering his slumps with a new approach at the plate.
“I didn't know how; I just hit,” he said.
He said he put increasing pressure on himself to be a complete player. “To get five hits in four at-bats,” he said.
Huntington's talk proved to be an awakening for Moss.
“Once I was able to accept that I'm not going to be Mike Trout or Albert Pujols, I just have to be the best me I can be, things started to turn around for the better,” he said.
When Moss arrived in Triple-A early in the 2010 season, Branson — then the Indianapolis hitting coach — showed him a long forgotten video from a Double-A all-star game. In the video, Moss was hitting well with an exaggerated open stance that he had discarded. He decided to give it another try.
“It was that day. It turned around,” said Moss, who ended up leading the International League in RBI (96) and hitting 22 homers.
Still, the Pirates weren't interested. He spent the 2011 season with the Phillies' Triple-A team in Lehigh Valley, hitting another 23 homers with 80 RBI.
Last year, the A's overlooked his tendency to strike out — a total of 245 in 2010-11 — and brought him back to the majors.
He helped Oakland reach the postseason, hitting .291 with 21 home runs — tied for third most in American League history by a player with fewer than 90 games played (84). This season, his average dipped to .232 before Tuesday, with 91 strikeouts (sixth most in franchise history before the All-Star break). But 16 of his past 26 hits have gone for extra bases, and his 16 home runs are more than any Pirates player with the exception of Pedro Alvarez.
“I strike out a ton,” said Moss, 29. “I don't understand why. I don't know if it's over-aggression or maybe I sit (on) pitches too much.
“But if you produce, they can handle strikeouts. If you don't, they can't.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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