Matt Moore pitched his way into history on Tuesday evening.
The Tampa Bay Rays prospect fanned 11 over six innings, giving him a Minor League-leading 208 strikeouts on the season. He allowed two unearned runs on four hits as the Stone Crabs edged the Jupiter Hammerheads, 3-2, in the opening game of a doubleheader.
The 21-year-old left-hander became the first Minor Leaguer since 2005 to amass 200 strikeouts in a season. Former American League All-Star Francisco Liriano fanned 204 in 167 2/3 innings between New Britain and Rochester that year.
"In certain situations -- runner on third, less than two out -- I really look to get a strikeout, but other than that it's not really my priority," Moore said. "The main thing I try to do is get ahead in the count. I get my confidence going when I'm ahead and can throw my pitches."
The last Minor Leaguer with more strikeouts than Moore was Clint Nageotte, who fanned 214 for Class A Advanced San Bernardino in 2002. Under normal circumstances, Moore might have gotten one more start on the final day of the regular season, but the Stone Crabs plan to use him in the first game of their Florida State League playoff series on Sept. 7.
With a 25-strikeout lead over Toledo's Charlie Furbush, Moore (6-11) is set to top the Minor Leagues in punchouts for the second straight season. In 26 starts for Class A Bowling Green last year, he went 8-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 176 strikeouts over 123 innings. A's prospect Anthony Capra finished second with 170 but needed 29 more innings to generate his total.
Moore has fanned 12.9 batters per nine innings over his last two seasons.
Despite the gaudy numbers, his winning percentage this season is just .353.
"We won our division [in the first half] and we're heading to the playoffs on a hot streak after winning two tonight," Moore said. "I don't think too much about run support. I just try to pitch well and give our team a chance to win."
The former eighth-round Draft pick's outing on Monday was characteristically devastating. He fanned two in all but one of his six frames -- he induced a pair of groundouts before striking out Paul Gran to end a 1-2-3 third inning.
"I get a lot of swings and misses on my breaking ball," Moore said. "And when you get ahead in the count, you can elevate the fastball."
The Hammerheads struck first, however, taking advantage of an error by first baseman Michael Sheridan to score two unearned runs.
Charlotte bounced back with a run in the third, then took the lead on Reid Fronk's two-run single in the fourth.
Moore exited after the sixth, having recorded six ground-ball outs and one flyout to go with 11 strikeouts. Zachary Quate notched his 24th save -- third-most in the league -- with a scoreless seventh.
The Stone Crabs, who were South Division first-half champions, have five games remaining in the regular season. They'll face the second-half champs -- likely Bradenton, which owns a three-game lead -- in a best-of-3 series. While Charlotte leads the league with a 3.12 ERA, Bradenton tops the circuit with 657 runs and a .267 batting average.
The Marauders will need every bit of their offense when they take on the Minor Leagues' strikeout king.