VIERA, Fla. - Tyler Moore came up through the minors as a first baseman. Prior to the 2012 season, Moore had appeared in 414 games as a professional. He had played first base in all 414.
The last two seasons, in an effort to add depth and find a way to get Moore's bat in the lineup, the Nationals have asked Moore to learn the corner outfield spots. As a big leaguer, he's played 76 games in the outfield and just 28 (including only 18 starts) at first base.
This spring, however, the Nats have better depth at the corner outfield spots than they have in the past. Nate McLouth can certainly play there. Scott Hairston has a good bit of experience at those spots, as well. And that frees up Moore to get more reps back at first base, the spot where he feels most knowledgeable.
Today, Moore was strictly getting reps behind Adam LaRoche at first base, and he looked really smooth going through all the drills, perhaps smoother than I can remember seeing him in the past. He picked a couple of tough hops both on grounders and on throws across the diamond from infielders, showed off some impressive footwork and let loose a bunch of strong, accurate throws.
"That's just kind of where I feel at home the most," Moore said. "First has always been my No. 1 position. I just feel comfortable over there. Glad to be over there back with Rochie, and hopefully I'll slide in the outfield here soon and get some reps out there."
The Nats likely will want Moore to continue getting some time in the outfield just so that he can play some more out there if needed. After all, the more versatile players are, the better off the ballclub will be. But for Moore, it's nice to get most of his reps this spring at first, as compared to trying to learn or get more comfortable at a new spot.
"It is, very much so, just because we're doing bunt plays and things like that right now and trying to get some foundation laid, and the plays down and the signs down," Moore said. "Yeah, it feels great to have one stress-free spot over there.
"That's a spot that I can kind of jump in and help Rochie out if he needs a day or something like that. Just kind of the same role I've been in for two years now, just trying to perfect that and just get better and better with it."
I asked LaRoche whether he felt Moore seemed a little smoother over at first these last two days than he has in the past, and the veteran first baseman said that he's always felt that Moore has the skills to be a quality first baseman. LaRoche feels the difference, if there is one, is that Moore just has more big league experience under his belt now than he has in past springs.
"I think he's just more comfortable in general," LaRoche said. "More comfortable being around the guys another year, a little more experience. It's easier to come out and relax now and not be so uptight or stiff or worried that every little thing you do ... I never saw him not looking athletic or not looking smooth over there. I know the first time I saw him over there, he's got good hands, got good instincts.
"We talked about it last year a lot. I want to see him in a situation where he can get a lot of at-bats. We've seen what he can do in a full season. So he needs to be playing a lot."
Barring an injury, Moore likely won't be playing much for the Nats on the major league level this season, instead possibly serving as a backup first baseman and right-handed power bat off the bench. Manager Matt Williams has talked about wanting to give his starters days off to keep them fresh, and if Moore is on the 25-man roster, he or Ryan Zimmerman could be inserted at first base against a tough left-handed starter in order to give LaRoche a rest.
Moore hopes to bounce back after a rough 2013 in which he was twice demoted to Triple-A Syracuse. He finished the year strong, hitting .334 in 61 at-bats over the final month and a half of the season, and will try and win a job on the Nats bench again this spring.
"I feel like last year was a tough year for myself and this team, and even though myself and this team finished strong last year, I feel like I can do a lot more than that and help out a lot more than that," Moore said. "Just ready for the action to happen.
"I think (I can handle the bench role better by) just learning from mistakes, taking some initiative and being prepared mentally, going in kind of full-throttle with it, ready to go."