We know easy is not in the Tampa Bay Rays playbook. Apparently, starting a rookie with just three major-league appearances and one start in game one of the American League divisional series is. With James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price unavailable to start the first game of the 2011 playoffs, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon selected 22-year-old Matt Moore as his starting pitcher on Friday. In doing so, Maddon passes on veteran – yet inconsistent – starters Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann.
Moore has been dazzling in his first taste of big league action. From his three-inning relief effort in Boston to his dominating first start in New York, it is clear he has the stuff to succeed at the highest level. In 9.1 innings of work, Moore has struck out 15 batters while walking just three. He allowed three earned runs in relief, but has a spotless – albeit brief - record as a starter.
Thus far we’ve seen top-shelf stuff from Moore’s left arm. He features a fastball with an average velocity near 96 mph. Beyond the fastball, he has a power breaking ball and an elusive changeup. In the small sample size, he has favored his fastball, but split the usage of his secondary pitches down the middle. Meanwhile, when we break it down by hand, Moore uses his off-speed pitch against right-handed batters while relying on the breaking ball versus fellow lefties.
Even though he possesses fantastic stuff, the Texas Rangers lineup will be no easy task for Moore to navigate. He will hold the platoon advantage over 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton; however, will face a heavy right-handed lineup with Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler serving as lefty bashers. Because of the right-handed ability of the Texas offense, Moore will need to have good control of his fastball and supplement that with his changeup. That means working the corners with the heater and away with the off-speed.
If Moore fails in game one, the criticism will reign down on Maddon. That said, Maddon openly welcomes this sort of thing. In choosing Moore, he is putting his best available arm on the field regardless of experience. Considering how loosely the Rays have played with "house money" it is no surprise that they are going all in with a rookie starter. That said, Matt Moore is no ordinary rookie.