When Riley Moore was a senior at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, Calif., his team won three games the entire season.
It was the least amount of fun Moore ever had on a baseball field.
Until this season.
“I think this is as tough as it’s ever been,” Arizona’s junior catcher said this week. “I think in high school it was more just about having fun and the lack of team success wasn’t as hard as it is now. Now I take the performance and success of our team a lot more serious than I did in high school.”
Moore, the backstop with 139 starts to his credit, hasn’t just watched as the Wildcats have struggled through an 17-20 season so far this year; he’s lived it.
The UA opens up a three-game series at USC tonight, marking a chance for Moore to improve on a slow season. He is hitting .239 with just six extra-base hits in 27 starts this season. He got off to such a slow start this season that coach Andy Lopez platooned him with Jordan Berger.
But Moore — and the Wildcats — have started to turn it around lately.
The UA has won five of its last six games; Moore is 7 for 15 during that stretch, leading the team with a .467 batting average.
“He’s looking to catch every night, and earlier in the season, that was not happening because he wasn’t doing enough,” Lopez said. “Now, he understands he’s in the lineup every night and he’s loose about it and just going out there and playing. We need that.”
Moore, who batted .301 and started 62 games in 2012 as a freshman when the Wildcats won the College World Series, has been fighting an uphill battle since August.
The catcher tore the posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee while catching for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League last summer. He rehabbed in enough time to be ready for the UA’s season opener against Kent State in mid-February, but struggled to play at the same level he did during his first two seasons.
He also irritated his right shoulder during the early weeks of the season. Things reached a low point earlier this month, when Moore’s season average dropped to .197.
“It’s been a work in progress,” Moore said. “Going from getting hurt in the summer, to working back and trying to lead this team, to progressing through the season, there have definitely been some rocky points. But this whole team had a choice to give up, but we’re fighting to push through.
“There have been some low lows, but I’m hoping we’re turning it around and getting hot at the right time.”
As much as Moore struggled offensively, Lopez was more concerned with his production behind the plate.
The UA pitching staff has struggled with injuries and efficiency this season. Mat Troupe is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Tyler Crawford and Cody Moffett have battled ailments throughout the season. Add those injuries to the fact that Arizona pitchers have combined for a 4.93 ERA this season and Lopez is looking for a catcher that can make things easier for the staff, not harder.
“When you have a staff that doesn’t throw overwhelming stuff, it’s imperative as a catcher that you help those guys get strikes,” Lopez said. “When they throw a strike, you have to guarantee it and maybe create a few more. When he didn’t play earlier, a lot of the reason was because he was letting balls get out of the strike zone. He’s doing a much better job of guaranteeing strikes now.”
And he’s hitting. Moore had one multiple-hit game in Arizona’ first 28 contests this season. He has three in the last nine games.
He’s hoping to continue the hot stretch the next three days in front of some family members and friends that will make the two-hour drive from Santa Barbara.
“As much as I disliked being out of the lineup earlier in the season, it was probably a good kick in the butt to get me going in the right direction,” Moore said. “Now I just want to keep it going and have the team stay in the fight.”
- Center fielder
- Scott Kingery
- is day-to-day with heel and ankle injuries he suffered in Sunday’s series finale against UCLA. Kingery leads the team with a .390 batting average and has started all 37 games. Kingery didn’t practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Lopez is hopeful he can play tonight.
- Lopez is undecided on a
- starting pitcher for Saturday’s game. Right-hander
- Tyger Talley
- , who started the series finales against Utah and UCLA, is an option. Talley earned a win against Utah, but lasted just three innings against the Bruins.
- Moffett, who threw 3º scoreless innings in relief on Sunday against UCLA, is also a possibility if he isn’t used out of the bullpen tonight or Friday.