Veteran has nine RBIs in that role this season
It is the hardest job in baseball.
Chad Tracy spends most of his day taking swings in the batting cage and watching video of the opposing team's relief pitchers so that when the time comes, with thousands of fans screaming and the pressure of a game hanging in the balance, he's ready.
That's the life of a pinch hitter, and only a select few can handle that job effectively. Teammate Mark DeRosa is another. Rookie Tyler Moore knows that as long as he's on the big league roster that will be his primary role the rest of this season, too.
"My swing feels good. I think that's the most important thing," Tracy said after returning from his 55-game layoff following surgery on a torn adductor. "Being able to come off the bench and give you a quality at-bat -- I think I'm there."
Tracy finally returned July 31. He has nine at-bats in eight games -- seven of them as a pinch hitter. And while he has yet to recapture his pinch-hitting magic of earlier this season, the Nats feel comfortable it will return when they need it most in the heat of a pennant race.
"That guy's a wizard off the bench. He's awesome. He's good," Moore said of Tracy. "We just kind of talk. Him and DeRosa, too. We'll go in our tunnel, hit, get loose and just kind of talk about the pitchers that are coming up and what to expect. That helps out a lot."
Tracy is still 2-for-7 with a walk as a pinch hitter since his return. In his one spot start in place of Ryan Zimmerman at third base on Aug. 1, he was 1-for-2 with a walk. Staying cold for him -- or any pinch hitter -- is no excuse. That's a lesson Moore is only now learning. He hit a game-tying single in an Aug. 4 game against Miami at Nationals Park -- a contest Washington eventually won 10-7 after trailing 6-4 in the eighth inning.
"The most important thing is getting a hit any way you can -- the result," Moore said. "But you get up there, you make sure your body is loose and then mentally you try to take the crowd out of it and just settle down."
Moore has appeared as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement in seven of his last 11 games. He's right to go to Tracy for advice. The 32-year-old veteran is used to this role by now. Even after missing those 55 games, Tracy is 7-for-23 on the season (.304 batting average). He also has two doubles, a homer and nine RBIs. Only three players have driven in more runs off the bench, and all three have had more at-bats than Tracy.