Moss concentrating on being himself
After pressing in first run with Bucs, outfielder looks to recapture swing
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Brandon Moss still doesn't believe he was intimidated by filling Jason Bay's shoes.
That's because he never felt that was the case. Moss was realistic enough not to fall into that trap, quite cognizant that Bay left Pittsburgh as an All-Star, while he had yet to prove himself as even an everyday player.
But Moss was trying to prove his worth, maybe not to fans, but to himself. And most detrimental of all to his performance, Moss was trying to prove it to management. He had to prove that he was worth the trade, Moss told himself. He had to perform up to what he perceived management's expectations to be. He had to prove that he belonged.
That's where the downfall started, Moss now acknowledges. That was the point when Moss let himself get away from who he was.
"I know that I'm a good player and that I can perform to those expectations, and I just wish I would have allowed myself to do that," Moss said this week, soaking in his first Spring Training with the Pirates. "They bestowed upon me a good responsibility and something I've always dreamed of and wanted. 'Let's not ruin it.' That was the thought that got in my head. When that thought gets in your head, all you're going to do is struggle.
"I shouldn't have put that pressure on myself. I should have just gone out and played, and I would have done much better."
And now, Moss says, his only expectation is that he returns to who he's always been.
He's already started that process off the field, with his gregarious personality showing itself in the clubhouse. But even more critical, Moss said, are two on-field adjustments that he made.
The first is the most obvious, and that was finding a way to alleviate the self-induced pressure Moss created after being dealt to Pittsburgh in a deadline deal that sent Bay to Boston.
A few things helped out on that front.
One, he doesn't have to survive being the new guy anymore, a feeling Moss said he had a hard time shaking off during his two months with the team late last season.
"I'm not trying to impress anyone anymore," Moss said. "I'm just being myself and let my personality come out a little bit. It's just one of those things where I'm getting more comfortable."
He also used the offseason to take a second look at his numbers with the Pirates -- a .222 average, 10 doubles, six homers, 23 RBIs, 15 walks and 45 strikeouts -- and put them into perspective. Obviously, the production wasn't as expected and the strikeout total was too high for anyone's liking. But the sample was quite small, with Moss only getting 158 at-bats.
"Even after the season, I really beat myself up with the way I had to finish and I was unhappy and disappointed that I didn't leave a good taste in people's mouth with the way I played," Moss said. "But looking back on it, I finally told myself that no one can judge me on that many at-bats. That's nothing."
The second adjustment that was made was mechanical. And though it began just one week after Moss' arrival to Pittsburgh, it wasn't completed until the offseason.
Before finding a solution for the mechanical flaw in his swing, Moss, along with hitting coach Don Long, had to identify the problem. It didn't take much thinking for Moss, who remembered a day back in early May when he started tinkering with his swing.
There really wasn't a reason behind making any sort of adjustment at the time, Moss said. He was simply messing around with a new swing in the batting cage one day and found that it felt good.
"And of course, being the idiot baseball player that I am, if something feels good, of course I'm going to try it," Moss said.
Unfortunately, the bad habit stuck. The change in bat path didn't necessarily cut down on Moss' walk total, but it did cause him to foul off more good pitches than he ever had in the past. Those were pitches, Moss says looking back, that he normally put in play with authority.
When Moss arrived in Pittsburgh and started working with Long, the two reviewed tape, and Long immediately noticed the discrepancy. And after just one week with the club, Moss began readjusting that bat path.
Though Moss knew that the adjustment was necessary, at the time, every at-bat proved to be a battle.
"Any time you try to adjust at the highest level, it's not going to go well," Moss said. "But at the same time, Don and I knew that it was two months left and that we could get through it and go in the offseason with the plan."
That offseason plan had a wrench thrown into it when, during the final week of the season, it was discovered that Moss would need to undergo surgery on his left knee. The surgery was expected to be followed by a lengthy recovery period, and plans for offseason work with Long had to be put on hold.
The surgery, however, proved to be less invasive than expected, and Moss is nearing 100 percent health already with six weeks left before Opening Day. And though he wasn't able to work with Long this offseason, Moss improvised as best he could.
During rehab sessions, Moss would sit on a stool -- bat in hand -- and swing. The goal: to master the bat path that he and Long had targeted.
"And sure enough, that actually paid off," Moss reported. "The first swings I took [in minicamp], my path was right through the ball, and everything was better."
And then Moss put it all in perspective.
"I actually feel like my swing is in better position now than it has been in five years," he said. "This swing feels a lot like what I felt like in 2004, when I had an unbelievable year. I'm not saying that I'm going to have an unbelievable year, but I feel very strong where I am and I feel like I've actually gotten back to where I need to be."
The Pirates are hopeful of as much, considering they are counting on production from Moss as the team's everyday right fielder.
It will be the first time in Moss' career that he will start a season tapped as an everyday outfielder. Yet, he's pretty convincing when he tells you that unlike last year, now he's prepared for the role.
"It's just one of those things where you look back at last year and take anything good you can from it," Moss said. "And anything bad, let it go and move on."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.