As the old saying goes, "records are made to be broken." Although Michael Moorhead has done nothing of the sort yet, he is quickly closing in on breaking the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers all-time single season strikeout record of 187 set by Clint Nageotte in 2001.
Moorhead, who sat down seven batters in his last outing on August 20, has struck out a team high 141 hitters this season. His strikeout total also places him in a tie for seventh on the all time list with Juan Done, who struck out 141 batters in 2002. Oh by the way, amongst Midwest League Pitchers this season Moorhead ranks fourth in the category.
"It's a neat thing," Moorhead said about his stellar season. "It's pretty cool, the fact that I'm up there with some of the bigger names in the organization."
So, what's the secret behind Moorhead's success?
"I just go out there and try to make good pitches," Moorhead said. "When I get ahead of guys I put them away."
Despite the high number of strikeouts Moorhead has accrued this season he still has not lost sight of the bigger picture.
"I'd rather have a low ERA than anything," Moorhead said. "That's my main goal. Strikeouts help because that's an easy out, but I'm out there every day to try and help the team win a game. It doesn't really matter how many I strike out, I still have 27 outs to get when I go pitch."
Perhaps even more impressive than Moorhead's strikeout total, however, is the fact that he has done it despite missing 21 games in the middle of the season. Those 21 games cost him three starts, and in the end might be the difference between his breaking the record or not.
This season, however, isn't Moorhead's first taste of professional success. The 23-year-old right hander from the University of Georgia put up superb numbers last season with Everett. He did so, though, in a different capacity than he has this season. How so, you ask? Last season he was a closer, collecting 13 saves and posting a 1.57 earned run average in 23 innings.
Early on this season, Moorhead struggled with the adjustment from being a closer to a starting pitcher.
"Early on in the year he still had the closer mentality," pitching coach Brad Holman said. "As a result of having that approach, where he tried to go max effort on every pitch, he found himself a lot times with a high pitch count in the fifth and sixth innings. He had to learn the approach, slow himself down and pitch at a comfortable effort level that he can go above and below if he needs to, which gives him more options."
Holman also pointed out Moorhead's early season tendency was to pitch for strikeouts, whereas now he is pitching to contact. Holman says this change in style has done wonders for the pitcher's control.
So you're looking for an overall assessment of Moorhead's abilities as a starting pitcher. Well Mariners' fans, you can breathe a sigh of relief because Holman has got an encouraging one.
"He's acquired the changeup, which is a major league average pitch for him right now," Holman said. "He's got a curveball that was already a major league average pitch. He's got a fastball that's major league average velocity, and now he's learning how to sink it. So you've got a kid in Single-A baseball with three major league average pitches. Now it's just a matter of him learning the role more than anything."
Dennis Eckersley made the transition from starting pitcher to closer en route to being enshrined in Cooperstown. While he certainly has a long way to go to achieve Eckersley's status, there's always the chance – no matter how small – that he will.
Right now, that's what Moorhead is going after.
Michael Moorhead: Strikeout Machine
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