Looking back, Tyler Moore understands what may have gone wrong with his season. He showed promise with a .840 OPS, 10-home run rookie season in 2012. Last season, however, he struggled as a bench player, posted a .607 OPS (and that was after a late-season improvement), and was demoted to Class AAA Syracuse twice. Young players, accustomed to playing everyday in the minors, often struggle when adjusting to bench roles. Moore succeeded one season but not the next.
“I think last year I was a little too lackadaisical in spring and that’s what I kind of want to correct this year because I know that I don’t have an everyday job, obviously,” he said recently at NatsFest. “I have to come in and be ready to hit when I have a chance. And when I have that chance I’ve got to take the best advantage of that.”
Moore, 27, who the Nationals still view as a potential first baseman of their future, knows that he enters spring training with much to prove. The Nationals’ bench is one of the biggest question marks of the team; they are, in part, counting on unknowns. The bench could use a power hitter and backup first baseman and, if Moore doesn’t struggle, the right-handed batter could fit that role. But, he said, “you gotta hit to be on the team.”
Since last year’s bench debacle, the Nationals have added Nate McLouth as an expensive insurance policy but a more experienced fourth outfielder than previous options. Scott Hairston, a pinch hitter added mid-2013 season who has traditionally hit left-handed pitching well, is primarily an outfielder but he bought a first baseman’s glove this winter. He hit .263 (5 for 19 with two homers) as a Nationals pinch hitter last season but only .224 overall. Jeff Baker, who can the corner infield spot and crushes left-handed pitching for power, seemed liked a strong fit but the Marlins lured him away on Tuesday. Beyond that, bench candidates include Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano, Chris Snyder, Jamey Carroll, Danny Espinosa, Mike Fontenot, Brock Peterson and Will Rhymes.
Moore’s up-and-down 2013 taught him to be better prepared. As a pinch hitter in 2012, Moore went 6 for 29 (.207); he did hit better when he started in the field, especially at first base. Last season, Moore was a dismal 1 for 18 (.056) as a pinch hitter. Moore said he has gained a better understanding of how to do his job, and adopting more urgency in spring training should help.
“Physically, I definitely know how,” he said. “Mentally, it’s still a challenge. I think it’s still a challenge even for the veteran guys. It’s something you have to figure out every day in an own personal way to do things. The biggest thing for me is just to slow the game down and get really locked in when I’m watching the game on the bench to stay in the game and not lose myself with my other teammates and stuff I don’t need to be focused on. It’s an effort there that you have to put in.”
When Moore returned to the Nationals a second time last season in August, he did hit better. He was tearing through Class AAA pitching after adjusting his timing. Although he was up against more September call-ups, Moore hit .344 (21 for 61) over his final 21 games. (His pinch hitting still struggled: he went 0 for 5 during that span.) The back and forth between the minors and the majors taught him some lessons.
“It was tough but it was kind of a wake-up call,” he said. “You can’t just roll in here and think you’re going to do good all the time. It’s a tough and humbling game. It’s an eye opener that kind of makes you more a little bit more hungry. A lot of people talking bad and you just want to prove them wrong at the same time. At the same time you want to prove to yourself that you belong here and you want to stay.”