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Australian pitcher making a name for himself with the Braves

POSTED: March 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
/The Associated Press

Atlanta Braves pitcher Peter Moylan delivers Friday during the fifth inning of a spring training game against the Dodgers in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Peter Moylan stands next to his locker in the Atlanta Braves clubhouse, going over an inventory of tattoos running the length of each arm.

His oldest daughter’s name, Montana, is inked along the inside of the right arm. His younger girl, Matisse, takes up the same spot on the left arm.

What’s that near his right wrist? "A cherry blossom," Moylan replies in his distinctive Australian accent. "It’s supposed to represent birth. That’s why I got that one with my oldest daughter."

There are waves — commemorating an Aussie’s innate love of the sea — not to mention a half-dozen stars on his upper back, drawn out in the same pattern as the flag of his homeland. He pulls up a sleeve to reveal his latest masterpiece, a Koi fish, which is supposed to represent strength in Japanese culture.

"I can’t go a week without thinking what I’m going to get for my next one," Moylan said.

Remember Charlie’s Sheen character in the movie "Major League"? Well, the Braves have their own version of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn coming out of the bullpen. The 29-year-old Moylan was downright unhittable at times in his first full big league season, going 5-3 with a 1.80 ERA and giving up just 65 hits in 90 innings. This year, he’s expected to serve in the main setup role for closer Rafael Soriano.

"He’s really a good one," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We can use him to get out of jams in the fifth and sixth, or we can pitch him in the eighth. I’d have no trouble pitching him in the ninth. It’s great to have guys like that. He had a sensational year. He’s going to follow it up, too. "

There are differences, of course, between Moylan and Sheen’s character.

Vaughn was signed out of the California Penal League, while Moylan comes from a country that hasn’t been a penal colony since the 1800s. But both wear geeky glasses, can throw a baseball extremely hard and took improbable paths to the big leagues — whether real or fictional.

Moylan was signed as a teenager by the Minnesota Twins, only to get released after just two seasons, having never risen above the rookie leagues. He was homesick, petulant and had no desire to put in the work. He returned to Australia and became a salesman, hawking everything from security systems to upholstery to pharmaceuticals. Baseball was for weekends.

But — and here’s where those "Wild Thing" comparisons crop up again — Moylan got a second chance when his country needed him for the World Baseball Classic in 2006. He was now throwing sidearm, the result of two back operations. The new motion raised his velocity well beyond 90 mph. He didn’t really have any idea where the ball was going, but no one could hit it when he did manage to find the plate. In a "Wild Thing" performance against Venezuela, he struck out four — including big league stars Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez and Ramon Hernandez — and walked five in 1 Ã innings.

Phil Stockman, another Aussie pitcher in the Braves’ system, had played against Moylan back home but never really met him until they were WBC teammates. It was quite a first impression: Moylan was wearing a suit — and a mohawk — along with all those tattoos under his shirt.

"He was jumping around and all tatted up," Stockman remembered. "I was thinking, ‘Who is this clown?’ Then we started talking one day. He was a pretty good guy, once you got by the tats and the hair."

The Braves were intrigued enough to sign Moylan, hoping he could harness his obvious talent. Minus the mohawk, he struggled to a 1-7 record with a 6.35 ERA at Triple-A Richmond, though he did manage to make it up for 15 mop-up appearances with Atlanta.

Last spring, he was one of those guys battling for a fringe spot in the bullpen, with most of the attention centered on closer Bob Wickman and newcomers Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, both acquired in trades to bolster what had been a major weakness in 2006.

Moylan started out at Richmond, but was called up two weeks into the season. When Gonzalez went down in May with an elbow injury, his role increased. By the time Wickman was let go in late August, Moylan was one of Cox’s most reliable relievers.

When the right-hander arrived at camp this year, he noticed right away that his locker had been moved to the side where most of the starters and top pitchers have their stalls. His spot last spring? Right next to the showers, reserved mostly for minor leaguers and fringe prospects.

"I can look across and see John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson," Moylan said. "It was a real wake-up call to see some of the legends of the game sitting five feet from me."

But he’s not about to let success go to his head. He’s come too far.

"The funny this is, I don’t see myself as Mr. Established," Moylan said. "Not a chance. I’m still coming into spring training with the same attitude I had last year, that I’ve got to earn a spot and prove to these guys that I can still pitch. I can’t sit back and rely on last year. I’ve got to go out there and prove it wasn’t a one-off thing."



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