Navery Moore is not goofy.
Even so, when it came up last fall, the idea that the junior right-hander could be Vanderbilt’s closer made sense to coach Tim Corbin.
“I do think that if you’re in that closer role, you either have to be really calm or you have to be really goofy, because it seems like those are the personalities for that particular role,” Corbin said. “He’s got the calmness of a Mariano [Rivera]. He’s not as goofy as maybe a Rod Beck.
“It seems like, to me, the good closers in the game have had one of those personalities.”
Meet Mr. Calm.
By the time Vanderbilt opened conference play this past weekend with a three-game series against Mississippi State, Moore had pitched in half of their 18 games and was 3-0 with four saves. In 10 innings pitched he had more strikeouts (nine) than he allowed hits and walks combined (eight). The only run against him was unearned. (See related story below.)
He was not needed in the first two games of the series -- Vanderbilt (19-2, 2-1) shut out MSU (15-6, 1-2) on Friday and Saturday -- but allowed the decisive run on two hits in 1.2 innings Sunday. That saddled him with the loss as the Commodores let a four-run lead slip away in a 9-8 defeat in the series finale.
His ERA is now .077 and opponents are hitting just .190 against him.
“I’ve felt comfortable just because our coaches preach not necessarily playing the situation or the team and just trying to stay focused and do what you can to win, and just stay within yourself,” Moore said. “That’s all I’ve tried to do.”
He was considered one of the top college and pro prospects in the nation as a junior at Battle Ground Academy but missed his senior season following a procedure to repair a ligament in his pitching arm (aka Tommy John surgery).
Through his first two years at Vanderbilt, Moore struggled with command. He threw a total of 17 innings as a freshman and sophomore, struck out 18, walked 17 and had an ERA higher than 8.00.
A star turn last summer with the Nashville Outlaws (he was named the No. 1 prospect in the Prospect League) and continued success during fall workouts made it clear he would get more innings this spring.
“We brought him along slowly, and it was just pieces of innings that we would give him,” Corbin said. “What ended up happening is that because we were putting him in short doses of innings, he developed a role as a shorter [outing] person, and he showed the ability to have a big arm during those moments — a lot of arm strength and a hard breaking ball.
“That got to the point where he would throw it out there, ‘Yeah, I’d love to be a guy that could finish games.’ ”
Moore’s first save came in the Commodores’ third contest of this season, a 3-1 victory at San Diego. He added two more the following week when VU took two of three from Stanford in a match-up of top 10 teams. He had back-to-back wins in a sweep of Illinois-Chicago, the final nonconference series.
“He throws the ball really well, and I’m just so proud of the things he’s been able to overcome,” Sonny Gray, the Commodores’ No. 1 starter, said. “I’m glad to see him out there in the ninth inning, and right now I wouldn’t want anybody out there but him.”
Naturally, Moore isn’t getting too excited about things.
“Results are important, but right now I feel like it’s just maintaining my confidence and trying to stay comfortable and making sure that myself and the team are on track with the goals we want to achieve and where we want to go,” he said. “I feel like — with any athlete — if you can get through a tough injury, it just makes you stronger in the end.
“As long as you can help your team out in the end, that’s all you can do.”
Moore continues recent success of Commodore closers
Coach Tim Corbin has shown he doesn’t need a dominant closer to have success at Vanderbilt. But it sure doesn’t hurt, either.
Two of the more memorable seasons under the current coach featured a reliever who threw hard and denied opponents the opportunity to rally.
The same has been true this season with Navery Moore.
In 2004, the first time the Commodores advanced to the NCAA Super Regional, Ryan Rote set the school record with 11 saves. In 2007, when the team set a school record with 54 wins and spent the majority of the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country, Casey Weathers went 12-2 with seven saves.
“I think the reason we were successful in 2004 and 2007 is because … you jumped in there with Rote, who was throwing 94-95 [miles per hour],” Corbin said. “[In 2007] you put in Weathers who was throwing 96 and 97.
“You get a similar effect with a guy like Moore. He’s not a guy who has so much of a trick pitch, but if you’re going to have a guy at the end of a game, you’d like to see the elevation keep going up. That’s what he does.”
Professional organizations value that kind of power pitching. The Chicago White Sox drafted Rote in the fifth round in 2005, and Weathers was a first-round pick of the Colorado Rockies two years later.
Moore’s fastball routinely challenges hitters at somewhere around 95 miles per hour. This year, he’s also been able to throw a hard breaking ball for strikes, which keeps hitters off balance.
“Early on, my goal in baseball was to try to throw as hard as I could,” Moore said. “Especially now, in figuring out pitching a little more, there’s more things than throwing hard, and there’s a lot that goes into it.
“… A lot of guys have the arm but can’t really harness it to have the control and precision.”