SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s not easy for a catcher to earn the praise of Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu.
A catcher during his playing days, Wakamatsu holds catchers and everything they do to impossibly high standards – whether it’s throwing, calling a game, receiving or even the smallest details of the position.
Maybe it’s unfair, but he also knows a catcher’s importance to a team’s success.
So for him to come out and heap praise on Adam Moore for two consecutive days, it’s safe to say the young catcher has been doing plenty right.
On Wednesday, Wakamatsu lauded Moore after Seattle’s 6-2 win over the Texas Rangers.
“He’s got a chance to be a special player,” Wakamatsu said. “He can swing the bat. We still need to work on some things throwing wise, quicken him up a little bit, but as far handling the pitching staff and his receiving skills, blocking ... real happy with that.’’
On Thursday, after the Mariners’ 6-2 win over the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, Moore got more kudos from Wakamatsu.
“Probably for me the player of the game was Adam Moore, both offensively and defensively,” Wakamatsu said. “I really like what’s going on behind the plate, throwing the runner out and making a couple nice bunt plays.”
Moore threw out Giants leadoff man Aaron Rowand by a couple of steps on an attempted steal of second in the first inning. But it was in the third inning, on Andres Torres’ bunt for a hit attempt, that Moore really looked sharp.
Torres’ bunt rolled just out onto the grass by the third-base line. Moore exploded from his crouch, picked up the ball with his bare hand, whirled around and fired a hard strike to first baseman Casey Kotchman to easily get Torres.
“Kotchman said that’s about as hard as he’s received a ball down at first base,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s got plenty of arm strength. We’ll continue to work on his quickness, but he’s got a lot of talent.”
In the sixth inning, the Giants’ Mark DeRosa hit a swinging bunt a little farther up the third-base line. Again Moore got there quickly, and this time he had to hurry and throw across his body to first. The ball beat DeRosa by a couple of steps, but first baseman Mike Carp dropped the ball. It was ruled a hit, but probably should have been scored an error. Realistically, it was an out.
At the plate Thursday, Moore was 1-for-2 with a single off Giants starter Tim Lincecum and worked two walks. While getting a hit off the reigning two-time National League Cy Young winner is impressive, Wakamatsu was just as impressed with the two walks. Moore fell behind in the count both times, including 0-2 to talented Giants prospect Madison Bumgarner. But in both at-bats, he laid off pitches just slightly out of the strike zone, refusing to chase pitches.
“He had three real quality at-bats,” Wakamatsu said. “I liked his patience. Even his last one, he worked it to 3-1 before he popped up.”
Moore is hitting .571 (8-for-14) in spring training.
The growth of Moore at the plate and behind the plate has taken on added importance because of Rob Johnson’s slow recovery from surgeries on both hips.
While veterans like Guillermo Quiroz and Josh Bard were brought in as insurance policies, the Mariners view Moore as the catcher of the future. Perhaps the future could be now, particularly if Johnson isn’t ready and Moore continues to play well.
He received compliments from Cliff Lee and Ian Snell, whom he has caught the past two days.
“He’s definitely got some skill back there,” Lee said. “I’ve been really impressed with how he calls a game and works back there.”
Snell was even more effusive.
“He is going to be one good player as he progresses through the major leagues,” Snell said. “He knows how to call a game, and his baseball knowledge is way above a lot of catchers in the game.”
Moore will actually catch Felix Hernandez’s start on Sunday in Tucson. Hernandez’s normal personal catcher, Johnson, will catch Cliff Lee on Monday. Wakamatsu is doing it to make sure Moore has some experience catching Hernandez in case Johnson has a setback, and also to allow Johnson a chance to catch Lee.
It may be a few weeks until opening day, but Moore has impressed one of his toughest and most important critics.
“I thought he just did a nice job all the way around,” Wakamatsu said. “We got another 20 days here. I’m looking forward to his continued development.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483