For the first two and a third innings of the game, Matt Moore was the pitcher the Rays dreamed he would be. He retired all seven batters he faced, consistently hitting his spots on the corners, and Boston Red Sox hitters didn’t have a chance. Then everything came crashing down.
We thought the worst had come in the third inning, when Moore walked 4 Red Sox to force home Boston’s first run. We were wrong. Moore was pitching well in the 4th, striking out Mike Napoli to begin the inning before forcing ex-Ray Jonny Gomes to ground out, when Xander Bogaerts hit a line drive. What happened next was a blur. The ball hit Moore in the face, then he got up and threw to first base. The alarm bells immediately had to go off. Was Moore OK? How did he get up and throw to first? He walked off the field under his own power, but his lip was bleeding and he was quickly handed a towel. Thirty replays later, we saw that Matt Moore had been able to deflect the ball just barely with his glove, saving him and the Rays from another Alex Cobb situation. Moore will undergo further tests, but it appears that a laceration of his lip that required stitches will be the worst he has to deal with. The Rays may give Moore a few more days at the beginning of the season, say starting him in the fifth game of the year, but Moore should be fine moving forward. He can take the positives of his outing, the two dominant innings and the solid fourth, and hopefully keep improving his control. Also worth noting: he did not allow a single hit.
The line drive was literally the only bad thing about this game for the Rays. At the plate, they had one of their best games of the spring. With two outs in the first inning, Wil Myers lined a double to right-center before Desmond Jennings drove him in on a single to right. Then Jennings stole second base even though everyone in jetBlue Park knew he was going. Jennings dipped to just 20 stolen bases in 28 attempts last season, but in the first inning, we saw the edge that he had been missing.
In the second frame, the Rays had 2 outs and nobody on when Felix Doubront balked then Ray Olmedo lined a single to center to give the Rays a 2-0 lead. Logan Forsythe followed with another single, and him and Olmedo proceeded to pull off a double steal. Then David DeJesus, known for his weakness against lefty pitching, none the less lined a single left field to score both baserunners as the Rays took 4-0 lead.
The Rays were quiet in the third and fourth, but they were right back at it in the fifth. DeJesus took a hanging breaking ball into right field for a ground rule double, and Desmond Jennings scored him with another two-bagger off the Green Monster. Then after a walk, Matt Joyce did one more bit of lefty-on-lefty damage, drilling a three-run home run as the Rays went up 8-1.
After Moore left, Brandon Gomes replaced him and kept the no-hitter going. Gomes tossed two shutout innings, striking out a pair of batters, and the story was his cutter. Gomes showed the ability to do a variety of things with the pitch, showing both slight late movement when he aimed for called strikes and bigger, more slider-like movement to force swings-and-misses. Gomes used it as a weapon to hitters from both sides, and he looks like an entirely different pitcher than the one we say last season.
After Gomes, it was time for Juan Carlos Oviedo‘s spring debut, and the rust was evident. His fastball consistently stayed up in the zone. But Oviedo’s velocity was better than expected, up to 91-93 MPH, and he also threw a few good changeups. Oviedo allowed a run on three hits and a walk in the inning, but it was a good first step and Oviedo will be an impact pitcher for the Rays once he is ready.
Then following one last run on a Cameron Seitzer sac fly, Mark Lowe came in to finish the game. He wound up going two innings allowing no runs on two hits, striking out three while walking none. He was not quite as sharp as Gomes, but the contact was weak, his velocity is good, and he showed a wipeout slider. Gomes is probably the better pitcher, but you cannot fault the Rays for wanting to keep a pitcher as talented as Lowe on the team if they choose him and send Gomes back to Triple-A.
The Rays had one thing go wrong in this contest, but just about everything else went right as they improved to 15-5-3 this spring, best in the major leagues. All four pitchers had their moments, and the quartet of Myers, DeJesus, Joyce, and Jayson Nix each had two hits as every lineup spot reached base and all but one got a hit. The three stolen base from Jennings, Olmedo, and Forsythe were also nice to see, and the Rays rebounded from some recent defensive miscues to make some excellent plays in an errorless game. The Rays will take on the Minnesota Twins at 1:05 PM tomorrow.