In the first days of the season, Dylan Moore sat and watched others get the playing time he desperately craved. With extra players on the active roster and missing all but the last week of summer camp after an asymptomatic positive test for COVID-19, Moore spent the season-opening series in Houston working out and trying to make up for the time missed. He never got an inning of playing time as Tim Lopes, Dee Gordon and Jose Marmolejos played instead.
His first start came when the Mariners traveled to Angel Stadium in Anaheim, about 10 minutes — with good traffic, anyway — from where he played high-school baseball at El Dorado High School in Placentia.
Starting in left field, Moore went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored. He was in the lineup the next night and had two more hits, including a big three-run homer in the Mariners’ 10-7 win. Since that first start vs. the Angels, Moore has appeared in every game, starting all but one.
It’s pretty simple: If you perform, particularly at the plate, you are going to play for this team that is struggling to score runs. The Mariners only have two true outfielders on the roster in Kyle Lewis and Mallex Smith, and Smith is slowly playing himself out of the lineup and possibly off the team.
That leaves open spots to grab for someone such as Moore, Lopes or Marmolejos to get more playing time and perhaps move past the stigma of being a utility player.
“We like having him in there and when he’s producing, he will keep playing,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in a video media session before Wednesday’s game. “That’s the way it goes right now. He sees an opportunity, and he wants to grab it.”
In the small sample size of seven games coming into Wednesday, Moore had eight hits in 25 at-bats with a three doubles, two homers, four RBI and a stolen base. Only Kyle Lewis has more homers and Kyle Seager has more extra-base hits in about 25 more plate appearances.
“Very impressed,” Servais said. “He’s swung the bat. I thought he had a really good spring training and he was good in camp. Every time I’ve put him in there, the quality of bats (are good), and I think he surprises people with as much power as he has. He’s got a quick bat, he’s pretty strong guy and really good athlete.”
The Mariners signed Moore as a minor league free agent last offseason with the plan of having him convert to a full-time utility player. He played in 113 games, starting 67 of them, playing every position but catcher, while posting a .206/.302/.389 slash line with 14 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 28 RBI.
“He learned a ton last year,” Servais said. “He’s never had to go through that before. He pretty much played every day his entire minor league career. We liked the player and the skill set of the player. We were hoping to get some experience under his belt so he could handle the role better and he certainly has.”
Moore spent the offseason and the shutdown continuing to work on some swing changes to “create more consistent contact and more room for error in my swing — more contact points. Creating less swing and miss.”
Servais has noticed the difference beyond the results.
“We saw some swing and miss on some balls in the strike zone last year, some balls he needed to get in play,” Servais said. “He’s cleaned that up in his swing, so he’s able to handle more pitches within the strike zone. In doing so, he’s a little bit tougher to pitch to. Nobody hits nasty breaking balls in this league. It’s just a matter of can you recognize them and lay off them. And he’s doing a better job of that and consequently getting more fastballs to hit and in better counts. He’s seeing the ball good and his swing decisions are good, and he’s quickly cleaned up his swing path in the strike zone.”
Moore, 28, is grateful for the opportunity the Mariners have given him as a utility player, but he wants more and as a longtime backup catcher, Servais understands that feeling of pushing past other people’s labels.
“When you are cast as a utility guy, all of a sudden that just becomes who you are,” Servais said. “It’s the same guy who’s the backup catcher. And I understand that role. I was brought into the league and you want to prove people wrong, you want to prove to people that you can be an everyday guy. And that’s kind of what’s driving him right now. The only thing holding him back from an everyday situation is not defense, it’s more on offense, and if he continues to do what he’s doing, he’s going to get more opportunities.
“It doesn’t always happen where you just come in and you’re an everyday regular. Sometimes you’ve got to break in as a backup or utility guy until an opportunity’s there (and) you take it and grab it. I think that’s what he’s doing right now.”
Graveman will sit for now
Kendall Graveman’s stay on the injured list with neck spasms will be longer than expected. The Mariners initially hoped Graveman would miss just one turn in the rotation Saturday vs. the Rockies, but further tests have pushed back his return.
“He’s going to be out some time,” Servais said. “This is going to be more than one start.”
Servais has decided to slide lefty Nick Margevicius, who has been pitching out of the bullpen this season, into Graveman’s spot for the time being.
Margevicius, 24, came up through the Padres’ system as a starter and made 12 starts last season for San Diego after being called up from Double-A.
- After Gov. Jay Inslee threw out the ceremonial first pitch in person for the home opener at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners have been doing virtual ceremonial first pitches before every game, showing the videos on the JumboTron and posting them on social media. They’ve had actor/comedian Joel McHale and gold-medal speed skater Apolo Ohno throw out pitches. University of Washington football coach Jimmy Lake threw out the pitch on Wednesday night in a slick video that featured him pitching off a mound in Husky Stadium