Mariners' two catchers weaving similar tales
Second-year catcher Adam Moore is working through struggles that the Mariners' new starter, Miguel Olivo, faced years ago in Seattle.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — His voice is an enthusiastic soundtrack of wisecracks, cuss words in two languages and constant encouragement, echoing around the fields like the pops of baseballs hitting gloves.
Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo admits he's having far more fun than he did during his first go-round with Seattle in the middle of the last decade. Olivo, who turns 33 in July, is all grown up now, having exchanged his daunting "catcher of the future" label for that of a proven major-league veteran.
But he remembers the hard times, much as he has tried to forget them. So he naturally had plenty to say this week when second-year catcher Adam Moore, whose own struggles mirror those Olivo faced years ago, approached him for advice.
"I went through the same thing," said Olivo, who hit .200 for the Mariners in 2004 and .151 in 2005 before he was traded to San Diego. "We talked about it. He's still young and he's going to be good. He is good. But everything comes in the right time. I went through it for five years, six years. Now, here I am again. I'm a better player, a better person and I'm still learning."
Moore hit just .195 in 60 games and had a team-high 58 starts behind the plate last season. The Mariners wound up trading equally unproductive catcher Rob Johnson to the Padres, then signed Olivo to a two-year, $7 million deal to start ahead of Moore.
That was quite a disappointment for Moore, 26, who'd dazzled in a brief September stint in 2009 and had team officials and fans gushing about a bright future. The same way former general manager Bill Bavasi gushed about Olivo in 2004, when he acquired him from the White Sox as a key piece of the Freddy Garcia trade.
"I just brought it up and asked him about it," Moore said. "He went through the same struggles I went through here. He told me 'You've got to continue to work hard and think about the positives that happened last year.' "
Moore says the positives included his final two weeks with the club in September, when he stopped lunging in front of the plate during at-bats and instead waited to see where a pitch was headed. He went 10 for 25 (.400) from Sept. 21 onward, including a five-game hitting streak.
"There are no more excuses for me," he said.
Moore said the big leagues were a huge adjustment for him coming out of camp last year. He'd hit well in Class AAA the previous year, but nothing really prepared him for what was coming.
"In AAA, you might have two really good starters in the rotation of every team and then the rest, you can handle," he said. "When you get up here, you've got five guys who can put the ball across the plate with every pitch."
And exploit weaknesses. Once pitchers saw Moore lunging, they kept pounding him inside, where he couldn't get his bat on the ball.
"They'll keep doing it, too," he said. "Until you adjust."
Moore says he now has faced just about every starter in the American League West and should know their tendencies better. He figures the key will be to stay back and not fret about every 0-for-4 outing.
He'll also have Olivo there to offer defensive pointers. Olivo says there's no secret to how he pulled himself out of his career funk after leaving Seattle.
"You just need to work harder and harder every day," Olivo said. "And maybe things will start to come to you. After that, you just do what you need to do. Yeah, you get frustrated. But it can't get to the point where you want to quit. You just need to step up and play hard."
Olivo did just that in San Diego, hitting .304 his final 37 games in 2005 after the trade from Seattle.
After signing as a free agent with the Marlins, he hit 16 home runs each in 2006 and 2007.
He signed as a free agent with Kansas City in 2008 and belted 12 more homers in only half a season before clubbing a career-best 23 for the Royals over 114 games in 2009. Last year, with Colorado, he hit a career full-season best .269 with 14 more long balls and an on-base-plus slugging percentage of .764.
The Mariners will be thrilled if Olivo comes anywhere near those numbers, playing home games in a Safeco Field ballpark that ate him alive last time around. Olivo says he's a different player now and doesn't appear worried.
He's too busy playfully jabbering at hitters when they step up to the plate during batting practice, or laughing and swearing with Felix Hernandez each time he delivers a steaming fastball. In other words, playing the dual leadership role the Mariners are counting on to help bring the team closer together.
"I'll be honest with you, right now I enjoy it more because I'm older," Olivo said. "I understand the game more and they trust me. On this team, I see a lot of young kids, and they want to learn too."
And the best lesson Moore can take away from Olivo is that you can survive a harsh career start and live to tell others about it.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
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