PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Matt Moore felt better about this one.
At times throughout the spring, the 23-year-old left-hander has struggled with his mechanics, but he walked from Charlotte Sports Park after his latest effort pleased. He struck out seven batters and only surrendered one run (unearned) and three hits in five innings during the Tampa Bay Rays’ 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.
“There were still some moments there where it kind of got away, talking about certain at-bats,” said Moore, who threw 88 pitches, 57 for strikes. “Overall, I’m happy with what came out.”
An assessment from Rays manager Joe Maddon suggests he has reason to be. Maddon called Moore “a lot better” Friday as someone who showed improved pitch command. The manager said Moore’s velocity is nearing normal and that the young player’s changeups and breaking balls looked sharp.
“Overall, I thought he had a much better idea of where the fastball is going,” Maddon said. “That’s what I like most.”
There’s room to do more, though. More than once, Maddon saw Moore’s speed reach as high as 92 mph. Maddon said Moore usually hits about 94 mph, so he expects the pitcher to increase his velocity as he becomes comfortable.
“If he can throw the ball where he wants to, his confidence is going to come back up, (and) he’s going to relax more and the velocity will show up,” Maddon said.
For now, Moore plans to stay level. It’s a simple approach, but one that’s hard to maintain: Never become too emotional about swings in performance.
“It’s spring training, so I don’t want to get too down on myself where I kind of go down that road where it feels like things are going wrong,” Moore said. “I don’t feel like that at all.”
Joel Peralta has bragging rights. The right-handed reliever, who hails from Bonao, Dominican Republic, walked into the Rays clubhouse Friday wearing the red-and-blue cap of his native country, the morning after it beat the United States in second-round pool play of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park.
“I’ve got to enjoy it while I can,” Peralta said.
The charged game, won 3-1 by the Dominicans with two runs in the top of the ninth inning, featured a pair of Rays players with visible roles. Outfielder Ben Zobrist made a pinch-hit at-bat in the ninth and faced closer Fernando Rodney. Rodney struck out his major-league teammate in a seven-pitch face-off that ended with a 96-mph fastball. With the victory, the Dominican Republic clinched a spot in the championship round that starts Sunday in San Francisco.
“I was kind of weird,” Maddon said of watching both players. “I can kind of understand the Harbaughs, the parents. Who do you root for? There is no rooting. You want them both to do well, so you stay out of it. But Fernando is throwing the ball really well right now. That’s kind of an uncomfortable moment for Zo.”
Roberts plays a new role
Never tell Ryan Roberts he’s not versatile. The seven-year veteran, usually at third or second base, played at first Friday for the first time. The twist? He enlisted some help along the way in borrowing teammate Luke Scott’s glove.
“Obviously, it’s different,” said Roberts, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. “But it wasn’t too bad. My expectations weren’t high, and they weren’t low. … Thankfully, I had done some early work. … It wasn’t too, too bad.”
The Rays announced three moves late Friday afternoon. Catcher Robinson Chirinos and infielders Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee have been optioned to Triple-A Durham.