VIERA, Fla. — Tyler Moore arrived at Space Coast Stadium this spring with the same goal he’s always had — making the team — year, the stakes are a bit different.
As he aims to win a spot on the Washington Nationals’ bench, Moore will go through spring training with the knowledge that he is out of minor-league options. If he does not make the 25-man roster on Opening Day, he will have to pass through waivers before going back to Triple-A Syracuse, giving 29 other teams an opportunity to claim him. Yet Moore said his contract situation hasn’t changed his approach.
“I always try to come into spring and just kind of be the same guy and just work and get my work done and do what my body needs,” Moore said. “That’s really the main thing, whether I’m going to play every day or I’m going to be on the bench, I’m going to try to take every day and make the most of it.”
The Nationals have always liked Moore, and he has been a solid player when given regular at-bats. Those stretches, however, have been few and far between with Adam LaRoche, and now Ryan Zimmerman, entrenched at the position.
This spring, Moore must convince Washington he can be a productive hitter off the bench, fulfilling a role in which he has always struggled.
“It’s difficult to be that guy for anybody, and the guys that do it really well are extremely unique,” manager Matt Williams said. “The more at-bats T-Mo gets, the better he is, and that I think is the case with everybody because you develop rhythm and timing and certainly seeing pitches every day helps. That game speed helps. When you sit over there on the bench and are asked to come in and get one at-bat or a spot start, it’s never easy for anybody.”
Moore made his major league debut in 2012. Over the past three seasons, the 28-year-old has been sent to Triple-A and back seven times. Last year, he started the year in the minor leagues and was called back to Washington in April, May and September. By now, he knows the trip from Washington to Syracuse like the back of his hand.
“It can definitely drive you crazy,” he said. “That’s kind of something I’ve learned, just doing that for the last three years, it’s just only do the things you can control. The only things you can control are your effort and your attitude, so just go at it and trust that they know what they’re doing, and that’s the only thing you can worry about, really.”
Moore spent 2010 at Single-A Potomac and 2011 at Double-A Harrisburg. In those two years, he averaged 31 home runs and 100 RBI per season. He advanced to Syracuse the following year and has had frequent success there, albeit it in short stints. As Moore settles into the everyday lineup, he gets more comfortable at the plate and puts up better numbers.
Williams said the Nationals will try to give Moore ample opportunities this spring, especially as outfielders Jayson Werth and Nate McLouth continue to rehab from shoulder injuries.
“[Moore] always has great spring trainings. Swings the bat well, because there’s a lot of at-bats for him,” Williams said. “We’ll try to continue to get him at-bats and he certainly, given the uncertainty in the outfield as we speak, will have an opportunity this spring to make a statement and put himself back on that map in that regard.”
Moore admits he has considered what it would be like to start on an everyday basis for another team. As a competitor, he said, he wants to play in every game. Yet he also feels he has improved in the role that lies before him, and he is ready to come off the bench and contribute at any time.
“I think it just comes with experience,” Moore said. “I’ve had three years of doing it and they always talk about veteran guys are kind of the guys that come in and do it. I don’t think I’m a veteran, but at the same time coming off the bench, I think I’ve gotten kind of a lot of pinch-hit at-bats. I know what my body needs and I feel like I’ve gotten better at it.”