When Matt Moore started pitching in the top of the first inning, it seemed like it might be another long night for the Rays bullpen. He hit Alex Gordon with his third pitch, and then walked Eric Hosmer on four pitches. After Salvador Perez flew out, Moore faced the dangerous Billy Butler. He threw Butler a 1-2 fastball just a bit inside, and then tried to double up on the pitch. The second time, Butler pulled his hands in and muscled the ball over the infield (despite a broken bat) for an RBI single. Moore got out of the inning, though, on an unusual sequence. Lorenzo Cain chopped a grounder straight back to Moore, who turned to throw out Butler at second. Hosmer, somewhat foolishly, tried to come home after seeing Moore turn, and Zobrist easily beat him to the plate with a routine throw to complete the 1-4-2 double play.
The Rays offense answered back immediately. Matt Joyce, in the leadoff spot, homered on a fastaball right down the middle. Ben Zobrist walked and was brought home by an Evan Longoria double off the top of the wall. The promising start did not carry over to the rest of the game, and those two runs were all the Rays would get.
While the Rays were scoring in the bottom of the inning, Joe Maddon sat down and had a talk with Moore, apparently telling him that he was 24 and in the major leagues, and that he should be having fun. Moore corrected Maddon, saying that he was 23, and went out and pitched three scoreless innings with three strikeouts, no hits allowed, and one walk.
Youthful enjoyment can only take one so far. Apparently, it takes one exactly three innings. After that one needs command.
In the top of the fifth, Matt Moore threw Jeff Francoeur a changeup down and in. It was definitely a ball, but Frenchy doesn't care about strike zones. He reached down and flipped it into left field for a single. Elliot Johnson was up next, and Moore presented him with a fastball, also down and in. Elliot, like the high quality batter that he is turned on it and hit a line drive against the the left field wall. Fuld played the carom off the angled inset poorly, and EJ coasted into an RBI triple. Now, with the runner at third, the Rays infield came in, and it was to their detriment. Alcides Escobar hit a low liner that Zobrist couldn't figure out how to field on the short hop, instead bouncing it into the outfield.
Gordon flew out to right field before Eric Hosmer lined a double into the right-field corner, but Escobar chose not to run on Joyce's arm. Salvador Perez singled him home and moved Hosmer over to third, where he was able to come home on a Billy Butter sacrifice line drive to center. Moore was flustered, and walked Lorenzo Cain on four pitches before finally getting out of the inning with a strikeout of Miguel Tejada.
Matt Moore walked Jeff Francouer to lead off the sixth inning, and after Elliot Johnson singled, and an Alcides Escobar flyout to center moved Francouer to third, Moore's night was finished at 100 pitches. Jamey Wright got him out of the jam, but the Rays had no rallies in their bats.
After yesterday's game, I was perplexed as to how Hellickson could go for long stretches where he looks great, but then give up huge innings where he's completely hittable. I still think Hellickson is weird, but I don't think Moore's struggles come with the same mystery. He's just not a very good pitcher right now. His mechanics are inconsistent (the telecast highlighted four pitches in the same at bat with four different follow-throughs), he can't find his release point, and his velocity is down in the low 90s. Yes, his fastball still has elite-level movement, but iffy command of a 92 mph fastball is a very ordinary pitcher. Moore could get away with his command, and maybe even excel, if he was throwing harder. But to have success in the major leagues, either the command or the velocity most improve.
Some other notes:
- After the Royals had scored in the top of the fifth, Matt Joyce tried to start a rally with a one-out double. He immediately killed it, though, getting picked off of second. Mendoza had flashed a good pickoff move all game (and all season). Someone who has played more baseball than I, tell me. Does a good pickoff move to first tell you that a guy likely has a good move to second as well? Should Joyce have been more on his guard based on what he had seen?
- In the top of the sixth, Moor walked Francoeur. Also in the top of the sixth, I poured myself a stiff drink. Not going to start drawing conclusions, but there's a clear correlation.
- Elliot Johnson went two-for-four with a double. Elliot, you're a better player when you hit, but you were a better muse when you popped up bunts. Can we see the other EJ tomorrow, just for old-times sake?
- In the seventh inning, Luke Scott hit probably the highest chopper I've ever seen, and legged it out to first (Escobar tried to barehand the ball to get a quicker throw but couldn't do so cleanly). I guess that's how they teach hitting in Baltimore.
- Don't look now, but Kyle Farnsworth is throwing in the mid 90s again, his pitches are moving, and he's getting guys out. Easily. He dominated Rays-killer Elliot Johnson for one of his two strikeouts in his one inning of work.
- Fernando Rodney came on to pitch the ninth inning down three runs. He immediately gave up a long fly ball to Alcides Escobar that sent Luke Scott (playing left field) all the way to the wall. He then broke Gordon's bat, but the hit dropped in for a single. Gordon went in motion to stay out of a double play, and then came home when Salvador Perez swung awkwardly but lined a changeup into left field for a double. Butler singled up the middle to bring Perez home, before a groundout from Lorenzo Cain got Rodney out of the inning. There were a lot of bad things from the Rays tonight. Rodney was not one of them. His run given up really was a bit of hard luck.
- In the bottom of the ninth, Kelvin Herrera struck out James Loney with an absolutely filthy breaking ball. If you can, go take a look. It's worth it.