EVERETT — From 1996 to 2006, the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff was anchored by Jamie Moyer, a left-hander who didn’t have a blazing fastball, but who survived and thrived because of his command, his changeup and his guile. He parlayed that combination into 145 wins in 11 seasons with the Mariners.
Tyler Ihrig took notice.
Moyer’s success served as inspiration for Ihrig, a Monroe native who’s hoping to follow in Moyer’s footsteps.
Ihrig, in his second season as a professional, is currently in Everett as his Boise Hawks take on the AquaSox in a Northwest League series. Ihrig grew up watching Moyer pitch for the Mariners, and now he’s using the same formula as he climbs the minor-league ladder.
“The season’s going pretty well, it’s been good,” said Ihrig, who started the second game of Boise’s double-header against the AquaSox on Friday night at Everett Memorial Stadium. “I like the Northwest League. I started off pretty well, then struggled a little bit, but it’s still going well and I’m really starting to find a good routine that makes me feel good when I pitch.”
Ihrig is a pitcher whose style mimics Moyer to a T. He’s a left-hander who’s listed at 6-feet tall, the exact same height as Moyer. Like Moyer, his fastball isn’t overpowering, clocking in at the mid-80s. And like Moyer, he compensates with a combination of command and a changeup opponents find baffling.
“I used to love watching Jamie Moyer pitch,” said Ihrig, who was expecting a big crowd of family and friends when he pitched Friday. “He had a summer ball team and we played against them. But I just loved watching him. He had an amazing changeup, and it wasn’t always about how hard he threw it, it was throwing strikes and throwing it where he wanted to and keeping hitters off balance. He did a good job of that. I try to pitch a little bit like that.”
Ihrig didn’t have the profile of a future professional pitcher during his formative years. Without a dominating fastball, the 22-year-old was never a huge star during his days at Monroe High School — he was never named to The Herald’s All-Area baseball team, either, as a first- or second-teamer. For college, he headed to College of Marin, a modest community college in Kentfield, Calif. As a freshman there he was used primarily in long relief.
However, Ihrig became College of Marin’s closer as a sophomore, and he performed well enough that the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 23rd round of the 2013 amateur draft.
At that point, Ihrig wasn’t quite a Moyer clone, as his repertoire consisted primarily of a fastball and a curveball. He’d dabbled with a changeup, but found the balls used in college, which have higher seams, didn’t suit the grip on his changeup, so he scrapped it. But upon entering professional baseball last summer he suddenly found his changeup back in play.
“I threw a change in high school and summer ball, but not in college, I couldn’t find it with the seams,” Ihrig explained. “Then I got to professional ball and there aren’t (as high a) seams on the ball, so I found a changeup and it started working real well. I kind of lost my curveball a little bit, it’s not as good as it was in college. But the changeup is there and it works real well. They can’t hit it.”
Certainly no one hit it last year. Playing for the Cubs’ team in the rookie Arizona League Ihrig was phenomenal. In 12 relief appearances, he went 2-0 with a 0.72 earned run average, walking just four and striking out 30 in 25 dominating innings.
This season he started out with Daytona of the high Class A Florida State League, throwing nine innings, then joined Boise when the Hawks began their season in June. But there was a kicker: With Boise he’s been used exclusively as a starter. In seven starts with the Hawks going into Friday’s game, he was 4-1 with a 4.50 ERA. Though his ERA his higher, his strikeout/walk ratio remained sterling at 33/4.
“It’s been different,” Ihrig said about the transition to starting. “The last time I started was probably when I was 18 playing summer ball in Washington. The routine is just different. You have five days to prepare, you have to find the right amount to throw on the side, you have to find out what’s going to make you feel right on that fifth day when you’re going to toss. That’s probably the biggest difference.
“I loved relieving, but I don’t throw that hard so I don’t know how long that would last for me,” Ihrig added. “I like starting and I think I can do it.”
As long as the command and the changeup keep opponents guessing, he’ll continue climbing the ladder.