Former UF pitcher thriving for Daytona Tortugas

Tortugas pitcher Scott Moss, a former UF standout. [Nigel Cook/GateHouse Media Services]

By Zach Dean
GateHouse Media Services

DAYTONA BEACH — Like most locals kids, Scott Moss grew up going to Jackie Robinson Ballpark and watching the Daytona Cubs. The difference now, however, is Moss no longer watches from the stands.

Instead, the former DeLand product catches games from the dugout, and, on every fifth day, from the mound.

“I remember seeing a bunch of those old Cubs players who are in the majors now, it’s pretty cool,” said Moss. “Sitting in the stands, it’s a different experience, though.”

Moss played at DeLand from 2010-13, and was named The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Player of the Year during his senior season after leading the Bulldogs with a staggering 0.52 ERA and 70 strikeouts. The lefty was drafted in the 38th round by the Colorado Rockies the following summer, but opted to attend the University of Florida instead.

Right before his freshman campaign, however, things took a turn for the worse.

“I just felt something in my arm go,” he recalled.

Moss tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his throwing arm, and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. It took nearly two years for the former Bulldog to return to the mound, but, once he did, he was as sharp as ever. In his one and only season of game-action at Florida, Moss went 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA, including a win in a spot-start against LSU in the SEC semifinals.

“He came back every so often and worked out, especially after surgery,” said DeLand Athletic Director Paul Ryder. “He was working hard to get back, and he’s such a good kid. It was heartbreaking seeing him get hurt, but if anybody was going to come back and get to where he wanted to go it was Scott.

“It’s been really cool to see a DeLand Bulldog go as far as he has.”

Apparently, the one season of work was all Moss needed to prove he was ready for the next level. During Florida’s Super Regional run in the NCAA tournament that summer, the Cincinnati Reds took the 6-foot-5 lefty in the fourth round of the MLB draft.

Now, nearly two years after signing, Moss is back where it all began.

“It was a really good feeling,” said Moss, who was assigned to Daytona earlier this year after going 13-6 in Single-A Dayton last season. “I had a little bit of a clue this past spring (that I’d be back in Daytona). It was a really good feeling knowing that I’d be back home and competing in front of friends and family.”

This spring, the 23-year-old has done more than just compete. He’s been at the forefront of a dominant first half for the Tortugas, which concluded with a division title last Tuesday.

Through 13 starts, Moss’ seven wins (7-2) leads the team, and his 52 strikeouts are good for second. The lefty’s 4.20 ERA isn’t quite where he’d like it, but if you take out his only bad start of the season — he gave up eight earned runs against Tampa in April — that number drops a full run (3.44).

“He’s done well for us,” said first-year manager and 2004 World Series champion Ricky Gutierrez. “He’s been one of our big guys on the mound that we give the ball to every five days. He had the one bad outing, but other than that he’s been consistent all year. You’ve seen the progress throughout the season. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Moss’ former high school coach Andy Lyon, who left the program in 2014 to take a job at Lake Howell, said the lefty is just getting started.

“Being back home, and being close to his mom (Judy) is huge,” he said. “It’s always going to help. He’s just comfortable in this area. Not only did he grow up in Deltona, but he was pretty much the main guy for three years at DeLand. Everybody knew about Scotty from when he was a sophomore all the way through his senior year. This is a comfortable spot for him.

“The other thing about Scott is, if you look at his career, as the season moves along, this is the point where he really starts to get going. Once that happens, look out.”

Moss — who picked up his seventh win of the season Saturday allowing one earned run over 5.2 innings — certainly appears to have found that groove over the past month, where he’s 4-1 with a 1.86 ERA over his past six starts. Perhaps his best start of the year came on May 22 against Jupiter, where he went a season-high seven innings and allowed just four hits and no runs.

“He came in here more of a fastball and slider guy, and his arm slot was a bit erratic after the surgery,” pitching coach Tom Brown said. “We’ve changed the arm action a little bit, developed more of a change-up for his second pitch to go with his fastball, and they’ve really played well off each other. He’s a different pitcher than he was in college, he’s had to resurrect himself a little bit, but these last few starts he’s really adapted well.”

Gutierrez said Moss has also done a better job of throwing strikes, which is perhaps the biggest thing pitchers take away from their time in Single-A.

“You have to be consistent and learn how to throw strikes,” he said. “A lot of pitchers, they struggle because they want to nibble and hit the corners. In this game, you have to throw strikes. When you’re in the hole, you need to have that one pitch that you know you can throw for a strike. That’s when you get called up and keep moving.”

If Moss continues his latest surge over the second half, which started Thursday, that call-up could be right around the corner. However, until that time comes, the lefty admitted he’s happy to stay home and pitch in front of his hometown for as long as he can.

Even if it is a bit nerve-wracking.

“It was definitely a little surreal to be back (the first time),” he laughed. “I signed off on at least 20 tickets for friends and family (for my first start), and that didn’t include people who didn’t tell me they were coming. The butterfly thing kind of went away about halfway through the first half.

“It’s a long process, though. It’s like any other job where you have to go through the ringer. Talking to the staff, it’s normally one little thing as a pitcher or a hitter that turns you from a minor leaguer into a major leaguer.

“Once I find that one thing, whatever it is, I’m hoping to make a run at it.”

Zach Dean is a sports reporter for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.