Rays vs. Jays, game 2 recap: Moore alternately struggles and strikes out 11

J. Meric

He also walked six in six innings.

If you wanted to understand Matt Moore in 2013 but were only allowed to watch one game, this would be the one. It showcased all of the potential, and all of the frustration—the inconsistent (or absent) command, the lack of velocity, and the near-unhittable stuff.

After getting the first out of the game on a popup, Matt Moore struck out Jose Bautista swinging with a knee-buckling curve down and in on his back foot. He pitched around the powerful Edwin Encarnacion, but then struck out the lefty Adam Lind with a ridiculous sweeping curve that would have made most any career LOOGY proud.

In the next inning, though, Moore's control problems began to rear their ugly heads (think of his problems sort of like a Medusa, with all of the snakes tending to wriggle high and armside). He walked DeRosa on five pitches, missing badly on several of them. He managed a fielders choice from a soft ground ball from Rajai Davis, and then got Colby Rasmus to swing wildly at a curve that must have bounced four feet in front of the plate.

Rather than dominating the bottom of the Blue Jays lineup, though, he walked J.P. Arencibia on four pitches, and allowed Maicer Izturis to put the ball in play for a single, scoring Davis. Melky Cabrera grounded out to end the inning.

With the heart of the Toronto lineup due up in the third inning, that type of control would not do. Still, to start off the inning, it was all that Moore had. He began with a backdoor curve that stayed up and away. Then he yanked a fastball at Bautista's feet, sending him to the deck. He got a changeup called a strike at the bottom of the zone, but then two straight fastballs stayed outside (one was fouled off), and a high fastball sent Bautista to first.

The command was no better when Moore pitched to Encarnacion, but the result was different. Missed location on a changeup, hard hit line drive single. At this point, it appeared that the Rays changed their approach a bit. Rather than mix it up and pitch to the corners, Matt Moore abandoned all guile. Jose Molina set up nearly straight behind the plate, and Moore threw fastballs. He was going to live or die by his movement. Of the next 21 pitches to the next three batters, two were curves, one was a changeup, and the other 18 were fastballs, ranging from 90 mph to 94 mph (the final pitch of the inning).

Not many pitchers can strike out Adam Lind by throwing a 90 mph fastball straight down the middle (graphs of Matt Moore's fastballs by location, movement, and velocity), but that's what Moore did. He next walked DeRosa, but struck out Davis and Rasmus, also with fastballs. In the next inning, he and Molina picked up right where they left off, trying to groove fastballs, and blowing them by people. Moore's velocity actually climbed a bit this inning, regularly sitting at 93-94 mph, and once touching 95 mph. Still, when Melky Cabrera bunted for a base hit, it presented a problem.

Matt Moore can aim for the middle of the plate and throw fastballs to the bottom of the Jays order, but no one can do that to Jose Bautista and expect to get away with it. I know he's in a slump (and he actually looks it right now, though I couldn't quite describe why), but this is a man who has zero problem hitting a fastball. Quality is immaterial to Bautista.

I need not have worried. Suddenly, when he needed to, Matt Moore was a pitcher again. He started Bautista with a changeup at the bottom of the strike zone, and then followed it up with a perfectly placed backdoor curve that sapped the power of Bautista's swing and got him to fly out to center field.

Even more perplexing (but appreciated), from the Bautista at bat on, Moore was everything we had hoped for him to be, minus the velocity. He went back to mixing his pitches, and he hit his spots. He struck out Encarnacion, Lind, and DeRosa in the fifth inning, all on breaking balls, and Maddon must have liked what he saw. He sent Moore back out for the sixth, despite his 97 pitch pitch count. Moore rewarded Maddon with a single and another walk, but also with two more strikeouts, both on filthy curves. Best of all, he got Melky Cabrera to ground out to end the inning, keeping Bautista from coming to bat with two men on. Moore was at 120 pitches, and Cabrera would surely have been his last batter either way.

Matt Moore showed in this game everything we've grown accustomed to throughout the year. His control was awful at times, but he regained it, and when he did, he was utterly dominant. He threw fastballs as slow as 90 mph, yet because of his movement, the Blue Jays couldn't hit them. They whiffed on 13 of 80 fastballs (16.25%, an elite level). They whiffed on 7 of 25 curves (28%, crazy).

With Matt Moore being so interesting, it would be easy to ignore the Rays offense. They were good too. They seemed perfectly comfortable against Mark Buehrle, their one-time tormenter, and took big but intelligent swings. They collected 11 hits, 10 of them singles, but they hit the ball harder than that. James Loney singled in the second inning, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. He needn't have bothered, as Buerle lost the strikezone against Molina and walked him. Desmond Jennings singled sharply into left field to bring him home.

The real excitement came in the fourth inning. Jose Molina walked once more, and Kelly Johnson was hit by a pitch in the arm to move him the second. That set the stage for this (please watch, worth it, I will embed when available). Sean Rodriguez hit a fly ball fairly deep to right field, that with an average runner and an average right fielder would be an easy RBI. But neither Bautista nor Molina is average. Molina put his head down and ran for all he was worth, while Bautista set himself and fired a strike over the cutoff man and direct to the plate. Bautista's throw beat Molina home, but Molina is apparently trickier than he looks. He ran to the outside of the baseline, kept his left side back, and reached over the tag with his right arm to touch the base, safe.

John Gibbons came out to argue, but the call was correct, and Bautista looked decidedly unamused. Both runners were able to advance on his ambitious throw, and both would come around to score, on a sacrifice and a single.

Some other notes:

  • In the bottom of the third inning, Wil Myers went first to third on a dribbled single into right field, testing Jose Bautista's arm. Bautista made a great throw, and replays showed that Myers may have been out. On the other hand, Edwin Encarnacion blocked the third base bag completely, forcing him to slide around and reach with his hand. With a regular slide, he would have been clearly safe. I've seen blocks like that get infielders a fastball in the ribs. At the least, I would have considered a hard, studs-up slide into EE's leg perfectly acceptable.
  • Mark Buehrle walked Jose Molina on four pitches his first time up and on five pitches his second time up. Signs of the apocalypse coming from a control artist like Buehrle. Or at least signs of age.
  • On the other hand, Molina has very good numbers against Buehrle (now 11 for 35), and in his third at bat he drove a fly ball all the way to the wall, so maybe Buehrle was right to pitch around him.
  • In the seventh, Mark DeRosa crushed a line drive that Evan Longoria snagged at the top of a leap. Great defensive play, and it got Jake McGee out of a spot that some bad defense from from Kelly Johnson (bobbled double play opportunity) put him in.
  • The Rays lead off the seventh inning with back to back singles from Loney and Escobar. the two of them successfully pulled off a double steal with Molina up to bat, and Molina grounded straight to Encarnacion at third. Brian Anderson revealed that Rick Odioso, the statistician in the booth for the broadcast, pointed out that the double steal may have kept the Rays out of a triple play. He was absolutely right. With Loney at first and Molina running, I'll go so far as to call it a probably triple play.
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