The fine line between developing a young catcher and destroying him

A day hasn’t gone by this homestand without Roger Hansen, the Mariners’ longtime catching coordinator and current bench coach, putting either Adam Moore or Josh Bard or both through some sort of mid-afternoon fundamental drill.

Today, it was Moore and the focus was foul popups.

Hansen had a machine at home plate shooting baseballs high into the air — at all angles — with Moore springing out of his crouch to locate the popups, then settling under them to make the catch. Fairly placid duty, you’d think, especially compared with the days he has the catcher block pitches in the dirt, which can leave welts and bruises.

Not today.

A few minutes ago, Hansen shot one popup toward the Mariners’ dugout and Moore put his eyes on the ball and sprinted toward where he though it would land. One problem. The ball drifted, and kept drifting, and so did Moore. At nearly full speed, he disappeared down the dugout stairs just as the baseball did.

There was a scream or two from the few in the ballpark watching, fearful that Moore might not reappear. He didn’t for nearly a minute, although Hansen certainly didn’t seem concerned, leaning on the machine at the plate without expression.

Had the legend of this tough coach grown? Naw.

Moore made his way back up the dugout stairs and onto the field, had a few words with Hansen, then dropped into his crouch for another copule of popups before they ended the drill.

It would only be fitting if Moore gets the chance to make a great catch beside the dugout tonight against the Angels. He’s back in the lineup, batting eighth.

A few notes before we go downstairs to see how Moore enjoyed his popup drill:

  • Felix Hernandez’s 2.29 home ERA this season would rank second-best in team history behind Randy Johnson’s 1.89 in 1997. But how about this — Jason Vargas, tonight’s starter, has a 2.48 home ERA that would rank as third-best in franchise history if he maintains it.
  • Ichiro Suzuki has 169 hits after his two-hit game last night. He has 30 games remaining to get the 31 hits he needs for another 200-hit season.
  • We wrote about this last night but it bears repeating in light of what fans may look forward to next year: Minor league relief pitcher Dan Cortes, whose fastball has routinely hit 100 mph, has been taken off the Peoria Javelinas’ Arizona Fall League roster and will pitch winter ball in Venezuela instead. The Mariners want to see how Cortes fares in the more energetic and stressful situation he may face in Venezuela, believing it could be an important element in his development into what they hope is a late-inning bullpen presence next year. Pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen, who’s had a strong season himself with the Everett AquaSox and Clinton LumberKings, will replace Cortes on the Javelinas’ roster.
  • Here is tonight’s Mariners lineup:

    Ichiro Suzuki, right field

    Chone Figgins, second base

    Franklin Gutierrez, center field

    Russell Branyan, DH

    Jose Lopez, third base

    Casey Kotchman, first base

    Michael Saunders, left field

    Adam Moore, catcher

    Josh Wilson, shortstop

    Left-hander Jason Vargas (9-7, 3.53 ERA), starting pitcher

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