By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
ATLANTA – Tyler Moore sits by his locker in the visitors clubhouse at Turner Field on Friday, silently staring at his iPhone. Bryce Harper is lounging on a nearby couch watching golf. Steven Strasburg is donning his uniform.
Moore, a Brandon native and former Mississippi State standout, is quite comfortable in this setting. The Washington Nationals are a team on the rise, sitting atop the National League Eastern Division, and Moore is becoming more of an integral piece on a team that features some of the majors’ best young talent in Harper and Strasburg.
Those two get a lot of attention – deservedly so – especially the 19-year-old Harper. He’s been labeled a once-in-a-generation prodigy and has become an everyday outfielder during his rookie season. If not for Harper, Moore might be grabbing a few more headlines for his play.
Entering Saturday’s game, Moore, who plays mostly in left field, was batting .339 (19 of 56) with four home runs and 10 RBIs in 24 games.
“If the Harper thing wasn’t going on in Washington, you’d probably be hearing a lot more about this guy’s talent,” veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche said.
Moore got his first promotion to the majors in late April, but his playing time was sporadic, and he batted only .125 in 12 games before being sent back down to Triple-A Syracuse. Since his second call-up on June 8, Moore has gotten more at-bats and seized the opportunity, hitting .432 (16 of 37) with the four homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games.
“I understood what I was doing the first time, but you don’t understand the crowds, and the emotions can get the best of you,” Moore said. “This is the second time, I’m getting a little bit more at-bats, and I’m able to come in, and it’s been beneficial for me just knowing what to expect.”
He’s gotten an assist from his roommate and platoon partner, Steve Lombardozzi, who got his first call-up last September and has shown Moore the ropes. The two played a lot of minor league ball together.
“You get up here, it’s the same game, it’s just a bigger stadium, bigger crowds,” Lombardozzi said. “Mentally it’s a bigger adjustment, just staying calm and staying within yourself.”
Third time’s a charm
Washington believed in Moore enough to draft him three times: Out of Northwest Rankin High School in 2005 (41st round), then Meridian Community College (33rd round, 2006) and finally after one year at MSU (16th round, 2008).
Moore credits scout Eric Robinson with staying on him all those years, and he’s developed a deep relationship with the Nationals as a result.
“I’ve seen changes in this organization, all the way from the minors to the big leagues, and we’re definitely going in the right direction,” Moore said. “They preach playing hard and playing the game the right way, so it’s been just awesome seeing that.”
During his minor league career, Moore had back-to-back 31-home run seasons in 2010 and ’11. His highest batting average was .310 this year in Syracuse, in 100 at-bats, but he’s otherwise not been a .300 hitter.
“I’ve learned a lot through all the minor league years I’ve had and learned to be more consistent instead of just hitting a home run or whatever,” he said. “You try to be more of a complete hitter, less strikeouts, more walks, just staying on the ball a lot more and staying small and simple with everything.”
When Moore’s first call-up didn’t go very well, he didn’t doubt himself. Upon returning to the Nationals, he immediately starting getting hits. He went 2 for 4 at Boston in his first game back, then five days later hit his first two major league homers and drove in five runs in Toronto.
“This game is so results-oriented that it feels like you get a hit, you start believing in yourself more, then you get another one, and it helps you out,” Moore said. “It’s been good the second time coming up just being able to have a little bit of success and help us win.”
The Nationals, until recently an NL doormat, are winning a lot these days thanks to a mix of youth and veterans. Whether they can keep it up will depend a lot on the play of young guys like Moore, Harper and Lombardozzi.
But Moore points to the pitching, led by Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.
“Even when they’re not pitching, they’re in the game, and that’s really kind of reflected on everybody,” said Moore. “It’s a big-time team effort, and they’ve been definitely our horses for us.”
Washington manager Davey Johnson wants to get more at-bats for Moore, but that can be tough to do with some of the other young talent he’s trying to work into the lineup. Moore is used a good bit against left-handing pitching, but he’s actually hitting better against right-handers (.381 versus .314).
“He’s always, as long as I’ve known him, always given pretty quality at-bats,” Johnson said.
If he keeps giving those type of at-bats, Moore should find a permanent role on this team. This second call-up has brought with it a greater comfort level, no matter where he’s playing – and he’s hitting better on the road (.375) than at home (.250).
In the field, Moore has yet to make an error. He’s started 12 games in left field and four at first base, and defensively versatility can only help him stick around.
Can Moore maintain his productivity as the season wears on? That question will be answered in due time, but LaRoche likes Moore’s chances.
“He’s a guy that’s got the tools, and probably more importantly the makeup to be really good in the big leagues for a long time,” said LaRoche. “I mean, really good.”