Entering 2012, the expectations were sky-high for Matt Moore after he struck out 11 in his first major league start in 2011 and then tossed 7 shutout innings in Game 1 of the ALDS versus the eventual AL champion Texas Rangers. Overall on the season, Moore couldn’t live up to the impossible standard set for him but pitched very well after a bad start, going 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA, an 8.9 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 31 starts and 177.1 innings pitched on the year including a 14-start stretch from mid-June to August where he went 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA. The inconsistency Moore displayed as a rookie tempered expectations for him moving forward- we all know he’s talented, but he still has work to do in his development. But this season, the Rays are relying on him even more, slotting him in as their 3rd starter following the departure of James Shields this offseason, and watching him struggle like he did in his first two spring outings had to get the Rays concerned. Moore’s third time on the mound on Sunday did not go as planned either, but he made progress and the Rays are cautiously optimistic that he’ll come out dealing once the season begins.
Moore rolled pretty easily through the first three innings of the game, allowing just a Daniel Nava single and a walk, but the wheels came off in the 4th inning. Moore walked Nava to begin the inning before Ryan Sweeney singled two batters later, and then Moore left a fastball waist-high to David Ross, who drilled it for a 3-run home run to give the Red Sox a 3-2 game. Moore went 3.2 innings allowing 3 runs on 4 hits, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well, and there’s no way to spin that as positive numbers. But Moore talked following the game about his mechanics beginning to get right and his fastball command making real strides, and while this was only a babystep and Moore needs to expedite his process of getting on track, the concerns from his previous outings are gradually disappearing and we could look back at this as the turning point for Moore this spring.
Joining Moore in having a tough day was the Rays offense, who managed just 5 hits in the game. Their 2 runs both scored in the 3rd on a Yunel Escobar RBI single and an Evan Longoria sac fly. Chris Gimenez and Leslie Anderson did both stay hot, going 1 for 3 to keep their spring batting averages at .500 and .406 respectively, but Gimenez’s hit was the only one the Rays could manage after the 4th inning as the Rays couldn’t get anything off the Boston bullpen after tagging John Lackey for a couple of runs. The Rays offense has been on a torrid pace this offseason, but we know that the Rays offense doesn’t look to be elite this season and it was good to get that first frustrating offensive effort out of the way.
The biggest highlight of the game was a trio of pitchers who all threw the ball really well: Josh Lueke, Will Inman, and Enny Romero. Lueke continued his outstanding spring by going 1.2 perfect innings, striking out 2, while Inman and Romero each struck out 2 in an inning of work, with the only baserunner between them a Ryan Dent single off Romero. Lueke was the player the Rays received in the much-maligned John Jaso trade, but after he has gone out and dominated this spring training, going 7 innings allowing just 1 run on 6 hits and striking out 4 while walking 1, after a strong finish at Triple-A, the Rays could be getting some real value from him out of the bullpen this season. As almost always appears to be the case with the Rays, even after games that leave you shaking your head, their pitching always finds a way to make you smile. The Rays will look to rebound tonight as they take on the Twins at home in Port Charlotte tonight at 7:05 PM.