It’s nearly a week into September, but with fall fast approaching Pat Moran is still playing baseball — an enviable position for any boy of summer.
Moran, a Winterport native now pitching for Pittsfield (Mass.) of the independent Can-Am League, is scheduled to start Thursday when the third-seeded Colonials visit the second-ranked New Jersey Jackals in the second game of their five-game semifinal series that begins Wednesday.
The former Hampden Academy, Brewer American Legion and Saint Joseph’s College standout, now in his second year in Pittsfield, enters the playoffs as one of the hottest pitchers in the eight-team league.
Moran has won his last six decisions — going 5-0 with a 1.50 earned run average during August alone — and ended the regular season with an 11-3 record. That set a team record for wins in a season, and Moran also ranked among the Can-Am leaders in earned run average (3.56) and strikeouts (79).
“Pat’s one of the top 10 or 15 pitchers in the league hands down,” said Pittsfield manager Jamie Keefe. “He’s as good or better than 90 percent of the pitchers in the league.”
Moran went 5-2 with a save last summer for the Colonials — then managed by former Boston Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach — after after signing with the team upon his graduation from Saint Joseph’s.
Daubach subsequently left for a job with the Washington Nationals organization and was replaced by Keefe, a former first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates who also was with the Colonials’ organization in 2010.
“I was hoping for big things from Pat,” said Keefe. “I had slotted him in as the fifth starter with the hope that he would develop, get his pitch count up and eventually be our number three or four.”
Moran exceeded those expectations largely due to two factors, the first of which was his off-season conditioning regimen.
“I just wanted to be real committed to being in the best shape I could be,” said Moran. “There was another kid who worked out with me all winter and we just really went after it every day and I was able to put on some weight and get stronger and more powerful as far as explosion when it comes to pitching.”
The physical change in the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Moran was immediately noticeable to his new boss.
“Pat’s a case of hard work paying off,” said Keefe. “He completely changed his body. He went from being in OK shape, tall and lanky, to now where he’s absolutely ripped. He’s hands down the hardest worker on the team, and I don’t say that because he’s having a good year, but every one on the team knows it.”
It’s enabled Moran to increase his typical pitch-count limit to 110 to 115 pitches per start while throwing his fastball consistently in the high 80s and low 90s.
“It’s really been a lot of hard work, a lot of time spent during the offseason taking care of my body and working out to be in the kind of shape I needed to be in to play a hundred games of baseball,” said Moran, an exercise science major at Saint Joseph’s. “At the beginning of the year I felt real good, and I’ve been throwing harder than I ever have. That just helps you mentally.”
Moran’s development of a cut fastball has added to a repertoire of pitches that allows him to change speeds, locations and hitters’ eye levels, a variety crucial to surviving in the professional ranks.
“I started to throw a cutter and that’s helped me a ton,” said Moran. “I’ve developed that as the season has gone along, and I’ve learned what counts to use it, when to throw it for a ball and when to throw it for a strike, and where to throw it in the strike zone.”
Moran also has re-committed to using his curveball as an off-speed pitch in addition to his changeup, another weapon for outsmarting hitters instead of merely trying to overpower them.
“I think the mentality of being a pitcher has changed a lot for me, not only because of age and experience but in just knowing that having confidence in yourself can do a lot for you,” said Moran. “It’s realizing it’s not just the physical side, but really being able to understand the mental aspects of what you’re doing, too.”
Moran and the Colonials have persevered through what has been a trying summer for the Colonials, a team nestled in a western Massachusetts city of 41,000.
Injuries have sidelined several players, including the starting shortstop, and the team has been beset by financial problems that spawned rumors that the Colonials might fold before the end of the season.
“When it comes down to it, we’re not playing for the money, we’re playing because we love the game,” said Moran. “And at the end of the day if we’re winning it just makes it even sweeter.”
The 24-year-old Moran’s dream is to parlay his success in independent baseball into an invitation to a minor league training camp next February, but after being undrafted coming out of Saint Joseph’s — where he compiled a 19-8 career record — his focus right now is on more immediate concerns.
“It would be great if that happened,” said Moran. “It would be awesome to get a chance to play affiliated ball and be able to try to move up and have that chance of a lifetime.
“But I don’t really think about it. I’m just going out each start and trying to do better than the time before.”