After losing four games in a row, and three straight to the Indians, the Tampa Bay Rays were looking for some positives to take into the weekend. There was reason to be excited. While the Rays haven't been playing well, and while facing Corey Kluber is never easy, former top prospect Matt Moore was slated to make his first start of the season after coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Let's take a moment to remember the old Matt Moore. Once upon a time, he had three plus-plus pitches. That is not an exaggeration. His fastball -- left-handed, 95+ mph, and extremely lively -- was very arguably the best in baseball, and his changeup and curve were both hard, darting offerings that put him in the same category as such other young phenoms as Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez: pitchers whose stuff was simply not fair.
But like with Harvey and Fernandez, a wax arm melts when you get to close to the sun, and for his hubris of throwing a baseball too hard and with too much spin, Matt Moore was taken away from us for awhile.
There are a lot of expectations one could place on Matt Moore, and few of them are fair for a guy making his first start while rehabbing from a surgery. So depending on how high you placed those expectations what we got to day was either about right or wildly disappointing. Moore wasn't amazing, but some of the stuff was there. If he ever gets back to being his old self (and he may not), it will surely take time. The most interesting thing about his start, stuff-wise, was that Moore was leaning heavily on a cut fastball. That's new. I'll have a separate article breaking down his stuff in just a minute.
The first live batter Matt Moore faced was Jason Kipnis, who caught up to an 0-2 91 mph fastball and hit it hard and on a line. Joey Butler, playing left field was able to track it down to put one away. Two batters later, Moore got his first strikeout on an 0-2 cutter after pounding the zone with two fastballs. I imagine that feels pretty good, after so much time of not striking out batters.
Meanwhile, the Rays offense got going early. Consecutive singles from Joey Butler, Evan Longoria, and new cleanup hitter Grady Sizemore plated the first run and put runners on first and second. As they've often done this year when they have two men on, the Rays went for the double steal. Yan Gomes tried for Longoria at third but missed and threw it into left field, allowing the second run to score.
With some help from a double play, Moore had faced the minimum at the end of the third inning, but he had more trouble the second time through the order. After allowing back-to-back singles from Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, he let both runners advance a base with the first of his three wild pitches on the night. That cost him a run when Brantley was able to get a cutter far enough into left field to sacrifice home a run.
The first two outs in the fourth inning came easily enough, but after that Moore continued to struggle, giving up a single, a wild pitch, a walk, and three more singles. He left the game down 4-2 in the fifth inning, having struck out four Cleveland batters and walked two. Steve Geltz got out of the fourth inning without incident, but the fact that Kevin Cash had to go to his bullpen early would matter later on in the game.
The Rays offense struck back in the bottom of the sixth inning when Kevin Kiermaier lead off with a double. This was one of those patented KK doubles, in that it had no business being a double. He his the ball hard, on a line direct to Carlos Santana at first base, who couldn't handle the line drive. It deflected off him and into short right field. By the time Brandon Moss got there, Kiermaier was at second. He scored on another single from Grady Sizemore, and Sizemore came around to tie the game, after yet another hard-hit ball ate up Santana for an RBI single.
The game remained tied until the tenth inning when the early exit from Moore caught up with the Rays. Steve Geltz had already pitched, putting up zeros. So had Jake McGee. And Brad Boxberger. And Kevin Jepsen. But Cash decided that the next man up was Xavier Cedeno. It wasn't a terrible spot for Cedeno. If he could get past the ninth-hitting righty Mike Aviles, Cedeno would have the top of the Cleveland order due up, and that meant two lefties sandwiched around one switch hitter.
But Cedeno couldn't get past Aviles, who took him deep for the all-important go-ahead run.
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