Pirates' Moskos finds relief as closer

New role for 2007 first-round pick brings nine saves in Altoona

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ALTOONA, Pa. -- Danny Moskos' slider has been attracting plenty of attention with the Altoona Curve.

Moskos, a 24-year-old left-hander drafted No. 4 overall in 2007, has prospered in his role as a closer this season for the Pirates' Class AA affiliate after an up-and-down stint as a starter in 2009. He is 9 for 9 in save opportunities and has a 1.45 ERA in 15 appearances with 17 strikeouts, seven walks and a .182 opponents' batting average.

"I think the bullpen is a good fit for him," Altoona pitching coach Tom Filer said. "He's pretty much a hyper guy. He likes that stage. He likes that pressure to perform. I think he's been thriving on it. His slider has been his put-away pitch. It's pretty hard to hit. He's going to get an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues if he continues to do his thing. He has that kind of makeup."

Moskos has been attacking the strike zone with his fastball (90-95 mph range), slider (84-87) and changeup. Filer said Moskos has been especially tough on left-handed batters, inducing plenty of ground balls.

"Starting vs. closing, I think it's just a mentality," Moskos said. "Some people have different personalities. For me, I think closing or pitching late in a ballgame in tight situations is kind of more fitting to my personality than maybe starting."

Altoona manager Matt Walbeck said Moskos, primarily a closer in college at Clemson University, belongs in the bullpen.

As a starter for the Curve last season, Moskos was 11-10 with a 3.74 ERA. He allowed 159 hits in 149 innings. Although he struck out 77, he walked 58 in 25 starts.

Moskos started the season 4-6 after changing the mechanics of his leg lift and delivery. But he finished strong, going 7-3 after July 4. His 11 wins tied for third most in the Eastern League.

"Last year, when he started, he would actually start off not throwing as hard as when he finished," Walbeck said. "He would be on his 100th pitch throwing harder than he was on his fifth pitch. So, we knew right there this guy had the closer mentality.

"And now, with him getting into the game late, he can go in there and give us everything that he has on every pitch that he throws. He's found his niche. He was able to learn from last year's starting experience. He's handled the closer's role quite well."

Moskos entered this season -- his fourth in professional baseball -- ranked as the Pirates' 30th-best prospect, according to Baseball America. He believes he has a lot more upside than that.

He was rated as the No. 5 pitcher available in the 2007 draft and the No. 8 overall prospect. But former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield was chastised by the public for passing on slugging catcher Matt Wieters, the No. 5 overall selection in 2007 who is in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, to take Moskos one pick before.

Wieters received a $6 million signing bonus; Moskos $2.75 million.

"It doesn't really matter that a different regime drafted me or a different general manager," Moskos said. "The owner's still here [Bob Nutting] that signed my initial paycheck. I have not done anything to not warrant my being involved in the future of the Pirates' organization, so I'm going to keep trying to build on that."

Moskos' ultimate baseball destination lies roughly 100 miles west of Blair County Ballpark. He hopes to land in Pittsburgh sometime this season, but first may have to take a detour through Class AAA Indianapolis.

"I told [Pirates] management before spring training that I see myself pitching in Pittsburgh this year and I don't just mean as a September call-up," he said. "I want to earn my way there and I want to make sure that when I get there I am going to stay and I'm not going to be a back-and-forth guy. I think that when the organization feels that I'm ready to be there, they're going to put me there. I put my faith in them."

Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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