PHOENIX — It's perhaps the toughest task in baseball, coming off the bench cold and asked to deliver a big hit late in a close ballgame. And Tyler Moore has spent the better part of four seasons now trying to get better at something so many accomplished players simply can't perfect.
So when Moore came through with his biggest hit of the young season Wednesday afternoon, crushing a game-tying, 2-run homer off the foul pole in the top of the sixth at Chase Field, it felt particularly significant for the Nationals' reserve outfielder/first baseman.
"Those are really nice," said Moore, who hadn't homered as a pinch-hitter since Sept. 2012. "But it feels the exact opposite when you go up there and ground out or strikeout or whatever it is. It's good just to come in and put the barrel of the bat on the ball and kind of get some life back into the team."
Moore's pinch-hit homer off Randal Delgado was a key blast in what became a 9-6 victory for the Nationals over the Diamondbacks. And it was the latest hit off the bench for Moore, who has to date become far more productive in this role than he has been in awhile.
After making a name for himself as a clutch bench player during his rookie season in 2012, Moore really struggled to produce in a reserve role the last two seasons. He was a combined 2-for-32 with 20 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter in 2013 and 2014.
That may be changing in 2015. Moore now is 4-for-15 as a pinch-hitter this season, a more-than-respectable .267 batting average in a role that often leads to sub-Mendoza Line numbers for others.
Moore has gotten better at it over the last few years, recognizing the need to be aggressive as a pinch-hitter without trying too hard to change the game on one swing.
"I think you've just got to really know the situation," Moore said. "Sometimes there's points to being aggressive. And then sometimes ... maybe you haven't seen a [pitcher] ... You just want to be hunting in the zone and just ready to hit, basically."
It has taken Moore several years to get the hang of pinch-hitting, and he still goes through his slumps at the plate. But he has shown signs of progress, as has the Nationals bench as a whole. After seeing their pinch-hitters bat a collective .144 last season, they've improved that number to .214 this season.
It may not sound like much, but the Nationals now rank 16th in the majors in pinch-hit batting average, 14th in OPS.
"Coming off the bench is never really a comfortable spot," Moore said. "You want to get in there and give yourself the best chance to succeed. Those guys are out there fighting. You just want to do good for the team. So I was glad I was able to help out a little bit today."