Moore gets chance in SEC tourney

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU's Tyler Moore fields a ground ball during practice earlier this year at Alex Box Stadium.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- LSU's Tyler Moore fields a ground ball during practice earlier this year at Alex Box Stadium.

HOOVER, Ala. — Tyler Moore hasn’t gotten as much playing time on the LSU baseball team this season as he did as a freshman last season.

But that’s going to change during the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week.

With second baseman JaCoby Jones sidelined because of a wrist injury, Mason Katz has moved from first base to second, and Moore will be the primary first baseman, though Chris Chinea might play against left-handed pitchers. Moore will be in the starting lineup Wednesday afternoon as the Tigers open play against Alabama right-hander Charlie Sullivan.

“This is definitely a big opportunity,” said Moore, who started 31 games last season but has started just 16 this season.

Moore got nine of his starts before SEC play began but has made just five starts in SEC competition, even though his .292 batting average is higher than the .261 he hit last season. Three of those SEC starts came last weekend when Jones was first sidelined for a series against Ole Miss and Moore went 3-for-9 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

“He’s gaining more experience,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “He had some good at-bats, especially on Saturday.

“I’ve been trying to get him as much playing time as I possibly can to keep him ready. I’m confident when I call upon him he’ll be ready to get the job done.”

Moore, who played at Dunham, hasn’t been able to secure a regular spot in the lineup, even though he is one of the more versatile players on the team. He has played first, third and catcher in addition to being the designated hitter.

“I don’t think it’s so much what he hasn’t done as much as it is what other guys have done,” Mainieri said.

Four newcomers — juniors Christian Ibarra and Sean McMullen, and freshmen Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson — have secured starting positions. With Laird and Stevenson bringing improved speed and defense in right field and center field, respectively, Katz has anchored first base as a senior.

McMullen is hitting .326 as the designated hitter, and Ibarra is batting .333 and playing solid defense at third, so Moore has had to settle for mostly midweek starts and pinch-hitting opportunities.

“Where’s the room for him?” Mainieri asked.

Moore and outfielder Chris Sciambra are Maineiri’s only left-handed pinch-hitting options when he uses his most common starting lineup. And Katz, who has played right and center in addition to first and second, might be the only player on the team who can play more spots than Moore.

“I always tell him to make sure he’s stretched all the time because he’s one of the first pinch hitters and one of the first defensive players at a couple of positions,” Katz said. “You have to always be ready and show coach that you have confidence.

“Tyler does such good job of being ready, and he’s going to help us down road. He’s a clutch hitter and works super hard.”

Last June, Moore hit a homer on a 3-2 pitch in the bottom of the 10th inning to tie Stony Brook in the opening game of the Baton Rouge Super Regional. Two innings later, he led off with a single and eventually scored the winning run on Katz’s single.

He also had clutch moments in hostile environments — homering at Kentucky and Ole Miss, and getting four hits in a series-clinching win at Florida.

This season, his opportunities have been scattered. He had back-to-back three-hit games at Louisiana-Lafayette and against Brown on Feb. 26 and March 1, then didn’t have another multihit game until he had two singles in the regular-season finale on Saturday.

“I always have to be ready no matter what,” Moore said. “I’ve got to stay sharp at every position just in case.”

Moore brings four gloves to practice — a first-base glove, a third-base glove and two catcher’s mitts — and usually gets work at all three positions at practice in addition to trying to keep his batting eye sharp.

“This game is fun,” Moore said. “It’s fun to be with guys you love and be on the field with them, go to battle with them on the field and give everything you’ve got.”

Moore generally is limited to facing right-handers, but Mainieri wouldn’t rule out leaving him at first against a left-hander this week.

“It’s obviously different against a left-hander, but that’s the game,” Moore said. “It’s something we’ve got to deal with. The key is to focus on each pitch and try to win each pitch.”