The Tampa Bay Rays have been as patient with Matt Moore as they can be, but at a certain point, enough is enough. Though we have seen flashes from his fastball, changeup, and curveball, his ability to command his pitches fluctuates wildly from batter to batter. My plan is to write an article tonight or tomorrow with the title “Tampa Bay Rays: Why Matt Moore Will Be Fine,” but there is no world where a 7.61 ERA through five starts can be tolerated on even a semi-contending team, especially when that figure has actually gone up in his last two outings. The Rays need to make a change.
Some people are suggesting that Moore should move to the bullpen, but that really doesn’t make sense. His velocity might tick up, but the same control issues and general inconsistency that has plagued him as a starter would continue to affect him in relief. More importantly, he would have less chances to work through his problems. Even if he was the last man in the Rays’ bullpen, he wouldn’t be able to throw additional pitches in side sessions because the Rays might need him that day–that was the issue that Erik Bedard went through last season once he was removed from the Rays’ rotation.
With that in mind, the Rays’ best choice is clearly to option Moore to Triple-A. He has all three of his minor league options remaining, and he doesn’t have enough service time to decline the assignment. The Rays can explain to him exactly why they are making the move–to let him continue his rehab process in a lower-pressure environment–and come up with a plan to get him back to the major leagues. They can tell him that once his command of his pitches is back, there will be a spot waiting for him on their roster in some capacity and quite possibly a starting role.
The Rays’ decision is easier because of the presence of Matt Andriese at Triple-A. If Moore can get back on track, he will be a better starter than Andriese, but Andriese gives them a much safer pitcher with the ability to eat innings at the back of their rotation and keep them in games. It isn’t as though the Rays have no other option other than to let Moore struggle until he finally finds himself again. While that process remains in progress, Andriese should be starting in the majors instead.
The Rays have shown a willingness to demote Andriese before, and they can tell Moore that as long as he makes sufficient progress with his arsenal, Andriese won’t stop him from reclaiming his rotation spot. The fact that Drew Smyly is also rehabbing complicates the picture, but with Nate Karns running out of innings on the year and Erasmo Ramirez being unable to face a lineup three times, a healthy and fully rehabilitated Matt Moore could still earn starts for the Rays down the stretch.
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Demoting Moore to Triple-A would hurt his confidence, but it can’t possibly be worse than these struggles at the major league level that have no end in sight. At Triple-A, less of his mistakes would be hit hard and he would likely get a bigger strike zone to work with. It would be easier for Moore to pitch. Those factors also would make it mostly irrelevant to look at his numbers with Durham Bulls, but the Rays would be ignoring that anyway–all they want to see is better command of his fastball, changeup, and curveball both in the zone and outside of it. Moore will eventually get his feel for repeating his mechanics back, and better that he does that and then returns rather than attempt to do so on the fly.
The cliche phrase is “No player’s development can be complete in the minor leagues,” but the way that baseball works is that you show the capacity to perform well in the majors and are promoted to baseball’s top level only afterwards. Why should that be any different with Matt Moore? Once his command comes back, he will have the ability to be a quality starting pitcher again, but right now, he is not at that point and Matt Andriese should be starting in his place until that changes. Maybe Moore is only one start away, but better than he wastes a great start at Triple-A than continues to pitch poorly and puts the Rays in any even more difficult position.