FORT MYERS, FLA. – Time for a little off-day Twins trivia: The team used a franchise-record 28 pitchers in relief at least once last season; almost as remarkably, nearly two-thirds of those relievers are already gone. Only 10 are in training camp with the Twins today, and three of them (Jose Berrios, Phil Hughes and Aaron Slegers) are actually starting pitchers.
So here’s the question: Of the remaining seven returning relievers, which one comes armed with the slowest fastball? Who in fact, outside of those pitchers recovering from injuries, might have the least velocity on the entire staff?
If you have ever watched him pitch, the answer — Gabriel Moya — might come as a shock. “The way he carries himself, the way he delivers the ball, it’s very hard to read and perceive and react,” said Ivan Arteaga, the pitching coach at Class AA Chattanooga. “His fastball looks like 98, and it’s actually 90 or maybe 91.”
Moya is the Venezuelan lefthander who so impressed Arteaga and the Twins after being acquired from Arizona in July for catcher John Ryan Murphy, he was promoted to the major leagues, and into the heat of a playoff race, only a month later. Now, having just turned 23 and with only six big-league innings behind him, Moya is making a strong case that he is ready to come north.
Certainly Moya has no doubts. If the adage that “You should dress for the job you want, not the one you have” is true, he feels right at home in a Twins jersey. A changeup pitcher’s best friend is deception, the art of looking more fearsome that you actually are. And that’s not just Moya’s best pitch — it’s his entire personna.
“If you watch him around [camp], he acts like he belongs,” manager Paul Molitor said. “He thinks he belongs.”
So do the coaches who work with him.
“I see [guts] and heart. I see a guy who’s not scared. At a young age, that’s pretty good,” said Eddie Guardado, the Twins bullpen coach and another former lefty reliever who relied on swagger and deception more than velocity. “Half the battle is going out there and believing in your stuff. And he believes in it.”
Moya makes believers of hitters, too, even before he unleashes a pitch. Moya bends over to receive the sign, his left arm dangling like a gunslinger. He pulls himself into an exaggerated stretch position, his right leg stretched in front of him, toes pointed at the batter, while he coils his upper body into his chest, like a spring-loaded trap being set. Then, with a sudden jerk, he explodes toward the hitter and fires a pitch that appears launched from a catapult.
A pitch that often travels only 80 mph, which produces plenty of awkward swings and weak contact.
“When I go on the mound, my goal is to make the batter think I’m going to eat him alive. That this is my territory,” Moya said through a translator. “A few years back, I started using [that delivery] to get into my arm slot quickly so it looked like the pitch gets there faster. It worked for me then and it works for me now.”
It certainly works this spring. Moya surrendered a home run to the second batter he faced this spring, but he has been nearly perfect since then, retiring 13 of the past 14 hitters he has faced, five via strikeout, and without issuing a walk. But that comes as no surprise to a pitcher who posted an 0.77 ERA in 58 innings at Class AA last year, and a 1.55 ERA in Class A the year before.
“I feel good. That’s the most important thing,” Moya said. “I’m staying positive. Throwing the changeup well against righthanders.”
The Twins believe lefthanded hitters are less susceptible to his changeup, so Moya is spending the spring establishing a slider that dives away from them. Taught to him by Jose Solarte, a former Venezuelan professional, “it’s just getting to where it’s enticing enough to get chases off the plate,” Molitor said, “and he’s comfortable enough to use it for either strike one or as a get-back-into-the-count pitch.”
Will he get that chance this spring? Zach Duke and Taylor Rogers already own spots in the bullpen, so it means persuading Molitor that it’s worth carrying three lefthanders. Guess what? Moya is confident. No wonder his teammates call him “Little Eddie,” after Guardado, because of similarities in height, body type — and attitude.
“Guardado wasn’t afraid to throw fastballs for strikes. I’m not either,” Moya said. “I don’t worry about making the team. I focus on getting hitters out, every time.”