10:28 PM CDT, March 11, 2012
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A.J. Pierzynski prides himself on not striking out.
It happened only 23 times last year, which is why the White Sox see their catcher as someone who can hit second in a batting order. Yet there was Pierzynski on Sunday afternoon, shaking his head as he walked back to the dugout after taking strike three from the Rockies' Jamie Moyer, a 78-mph fastball that caught the outside corner.
Pierzynski had been set up by a series of curveballs and changeups, the latter of which registered 65 on the Salt River Fields scoreboard. He was caught looking when Moyer went to his fifth gear.
Pierzynski was the last of 11 batters Moyer faced during a three-inning start as the Rockies beat the White Sox 5-2. He beat John Danks, who just received a $65 million contract extension, and was no more impressed with himself than he had been after his first Cactus League start, when he outpitched Tim Lincecum, who had been so impressed he tipped his cap to Moyer.
"I've done this since I was 8 years old," Moyer said. "I'm 49. I've had a lot of practice."
Out of baseball last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery in his well-worn left arm, Moyer is attempting to win a job in a Rockies rotation that will have extra room early in the season as Jorge De La Rosa works toward a June return. He could become the oldest pitcher in the majors since Hoyt Wilhelm, whom the Dodgers released in 1972, five days before his 50th birthday.
But Moyer's age is something other people think about, not him.
"This isn't a publicity stunt," he said. "I didn't really realize that until I got here this spring."
Moyer made his debut with the Cubs on June 16, 1986, beating the Phillies' Steve Carlton at Wrigley Field. Three of the guys who played that day have gone into the Hall of Fame (Mike Schmidt, Ryne Sandberg and Carlton) and four have managed (Davey Lopes, Juan Samuel, John Russell and Ron Roenicke). Moyer just kept inventing, then reinventing himself as a pitcher.
He has piled up 267 victories, 40th on the all-time list, right between Jim Palmer and the late Bob Feller. But none of baseball's big winners have ever persevered like Moyer, whose career 4.24 ERA is almost a half run higher than any of the pitchers ahead of him.
A sixth-round pick of the Cubs in 1984 (the rare era when Dallas Green, Gordon Goldsberry and Gary Nickels had that team accumulating more than its share of amateur talent), Moyer was 23 when he made his debut but landed back in Triple-A in 1991 and '92, after his first arm injury left him with a fastball that rarely climbed higher than 85 mph.
Moyer learned to pitch while passing through the Cardinals' and Tigers' systems, then took advantage of Roland Hemond's offer to get back to the big leagues with the '93 Orioles. He has been flummoxing hitters ever since, somehow keeping a differential of 8-10 mph between his fastball and his changeup even as his velocity slipped.
Moyer's fastball peaked at 80 mph against the White Sox, and he threw at least three pitches below 70, including that 65-mph floater to Pierzynski.
"It's tough, tough on hitters to adjust to somebody throwing that slow,'' said the Rockies' Jason Giambi, who first faced Moyer in 1995. "You're keyed up to swing, and he throws a changeup at 60. You don't think the ball can stay in the air to get across the plate. … He's so good.''
Moyer didn't exactly catch the White Sox's full lineup, but Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Pierzynski were hitless in four at-bats. He has allowed one run in five innings this spring.
"If I hadn't tried to pitch in 2012, I would have wondered my whole life if I could have,'' he said.
He believes he can be as effective as he was early in the 2010 season, when he was 9-6 for the Phillies with a 4.30 ERA at the end of June, which was about the time his elbow started hurting. He says it's a coincidence that he wears jersey number 50 — first issued to him by the Red Sox in 1996 — but laughed when asked if he'd think about switching to 60 at some point.
"That's a good call,'' he said. "But let's get to 50 first.''
Because Moyer has a November birthday, he'll have to hold up all of this season to do that.
"I'm trying not to put expectations on it,'' he said. "Every day I come here, it's a plus. We'll see where this ride takes us.''
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