Let’s talk a lot about Matt Moore and not much about the rest of this game. Moore, whose struggles since returning from Tommy John Surgery have been well-documented, finally delivered a breakthrough outing. He tossed 7 shutout innings giving up just 2 hits, striking out 9 while walking none. His start was different from what we have seen from him in recent games in just about every possible way.
Moore’s struggles this season and earlier issues in his major league career have stemmed from a lack of control. At his best, he was effectively wild, getting behind in counts a little too often but preventing hitters from doing much when they did swing. This year, however, the 2-0 counts were simply too prevalent and his fastball at those times weren’t fooling anybody. Too many heaters were left down the middle and his secondary pitches couldn’t hit the zone often enough to remedy the situation.
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In this game, however, an insane 67 of his 93 pitches were strikes, and that really only tells part of the story. Just about everything was quality–the best pitches in baseball are called strikes if taken but turn into whiffs if you swing, and Moore unleashed quite a few such pitches. He kept his fastball on the corners and above hitters’ swings as the mistakes he had made in previous games simply disappeared. He entered this game averaging 92.75 MPH with his fastball, throwing it for a strike 66.11% of the time, and generating whiffs at a 6.11% clip. In this game, he upped his four-seam velocity to 93.5 MPH, threw it for a strike 76.4% of the time, and forced an insane 20.11% whiff rate.
Moore threw his fastball harder yet hit the zone more often and got it into better spots. And the extra velocity certainly didn’t hurt his ability to force swing-and-misses and keep hitters off-balance. Add in a great curveball that occasionally looked unhittable, and the Orioles hitters didn’t have a chance for much of the contest. Moore looked human for a time in the fourth inning after Nolan Reimold doubled for Baltimore’s first hit and got behind Manny Machado 3-0, but he rebounded to retire Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones to escape the inning. A Jonathan Schoop single in the fifth was the only other baserunner he allowed.
Other fun facts about this start were the following: 1) Moore threw 16 straight strikes from the end of the first inning until two outs in the second, 2) It was his first time surpassing 5 innings in a major league start since April 2, 2014, and 3) It was undoubtedly his best start overall since his complete-game shutout of the Boston Red Sox on July 22, 2013.
But alas, Alex Colome came in for the eighth and gave up 4 runs to blow the Rays’ 3-0 lead. In his defense, he had received just one day of rest after pitching on three consecutive days for the first time in his career. The Rays had scored their runs on a John Jaso homer and infield singles by Tim Beckham and Kevin Kiermaier. Tomorrow, Drew Smyly will head to the mound for the Rays against Tyler Wilson.