Navery Moore has lost count.
The Franklin native and Vanderbilt junior doesn’t know how many home runs he has allowed during his high school and collegiate days. The right-handed pitcher just doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the long balls.
“I don’t think I have given up many but it is something every pitcher has to go through,” Moore said. “You see big league guys [give up homers]; it happens to everybody. Nobody is invincible in baseball. Baseball is a humbling game. It just shows you anything can happen any day. It is just part of the game.”
Moore is trying to erase from his mind the images of two home runs he allowed during a 24-hour span that were costly in Vanderbilt’s two setbacks against then-No. 6 Florida over the weekend. He’ll try to move on and look ahead as the Commodores, who fell from the top spot to No. 3 in the country, wrap up the regular season with a three-game series at Georgia. The series begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday (ESPNU).
Moore entered the first game of the Florida series in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday (the game was suspended from Friday due to inclement weather) with a one-run lead. He hadn’t allowed a home run all season and hadn’t given up a run in 13 straight outings, dating back to March 20.
Both streaks ended his first pitch. Florida’s Josh Adams smacked a home run off the top of the left field wall and into the stands to tie the game. Moore then allowed a single, a walk and gave up an RBI-double, and the Commodores fell 6-5.
A day later, he came on in the 12th inning of a 3-3 game with two runners on and one out to face Mike Zunino, the frontrunner for the Southeastern Conference player of the year. Zunino won the matchup when he took a 3-2 fastball the opposite way for a game-winning, three-run home run.
“It is always something that I don’t want to say rattles you but it may shock you a little bit,” Moore said. “It is more so how you come back from that.”
Moore and the Commodores (42-8, 20-7) will find out as the games become more important the rest of the way. After the series against Georgia (27-26, 15-12), Vanderbilt will compete in the SEC Tournament at Hoover, Ala., and most likely will host a NCAA Regional the first weekend of June.
The bullpen should prove to be a big factor in whether the Commodores make a long run in the postseason and reach the school’s first College World Series.
Lately, relief pitchers haven’t provided much relief. Four of the last seven losses have gone to those out of the bullpen.
“It hasn’t worked out in our favor in both of those series but I think we have beaten some quality teams also,” Moore said. “It is just how the SEC is — any weekend. You can’t let down your guard at all or those teams are going to come back and take care of you and beat you. We just have to continue with our game plan and our approach as a team and we will be fine coming into this next week.”
For Moore (4-2), his first year as the team’s closer was going very well. The hard-throwing 6-foot-1, 200-pounder had thrown 24 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched, having allowed just 14 hits, nine walks and — most impressively — just one earned run before the Florida series.
A Battle Ground Academy product, Moore also had a 0.36 ERA, was 9-of-10 in save opportunities and opponents were hitting just .159 off of him.
“We have plenty of confidence in him and he knows that,” first baseman Aaron Westlake said. “It is a tough taste to have until he gets out there again on the mound, but he’ll be good to go and we have all the confidence in him. I think he has confidence in himself as well. That is why he is such a good pitcher.”
And Moore is ready for the next game-on-the-line situation. He hopes to see Florida and Zunino again — possibly in the SEC Tournament — and said he won’t back down from the high-caliber competition.
“That is a situation you want to be in as a college athlete,” he said. “You don’t come to Vanderbilt hoping to get through easy situations, easy outings. You come here to compete in the SEC at the highest level. So coming here, that is what we want and that is a situation everyone on this team wants to be in. When you are competing for a national championship, you are going to be in those situations all the time.”
• Vanderbilt is in a three-way tie for first place in the conference and the SEC East with Florida and South Carolina.
If the SEC Tournament started Thursday, the Commodores would be the fourth seed. South Carolina would receive the top seed by virtue of tiebreakers with Florida and Vanderbilt. Alabama would be the No. 2 seed since, right now, it would be the other divisional champion (there is a four-way tie for first in the SEC West). Florida would be No. 3 because it has the tiebreaker over Vanderbilt based on winning last weekend’s series.
“There is going to be a lot of emotional baseball this weekend in certain parts of the country,” coach Tim Corbin said. “There is going to be emotional baseball played where we are because Georgia has to win every game that they play. ... So they need wins right now more than anything else and we are that team that is standing in their way.
“This always has been a fun week for SEC baseball and it has come down to crunch time for a lot of those teams.”
• Grayson Garvin will be trying to tie the school record for wins in a season when he takes the mound against Georgia on Friday. The junior left-hander is 11-1 right now and is a perfect 9-0 in SEC starts — all coming in the important second game of three-game series. Garvin has a 2.08 ERA with 75 strikeouts and just 14 walks.
“I think Grayson Garvin is as important from a pitching standpoint as anyone on our team,” Corbin said. “What Grayson has been able to do is stopgap certain situations in which we have lost on Friday night and come up short. He has been able to turn the momentum back toward us and pitch so well that we have been able to win on Saturday. He has been consistent. He has been every bit as consistent as [Vanderbilt ace] Sonny [Gray].”
• Infielder Bryan Johns could be out for two weeks after he broke the index finger on his right hand during an at-bat Saturday.
Corbin said Johns will most likely be used in a pinch-running role until he can start swinging a bat or throw without any pain. Corbin did say he hasn’t rule out the possibility of having Johns ready for the SEC Tournament.
“Right now he can’t really do too much,” Corbin said.
Left fielder Tony Kemp is expected to play this weekend after he jammed his left hand while sliding head-first into first base on Sunday. The week before, against Kentucky, he dislocated a finger on his right hand while sliding into home plate. He missed last week’s game against Louisville but played in all three games against Florida.
“Tony is OK,” Corbin said. “What we have to do with him is just slide knuckles down rather than fingers pointed. We talked about that with him right after that game.”