Matt Moore's 7-0 start a study in touching potential
Matt Moore's 7-0 start set a franchise record, and the young lefty still has room to grow.
By ANDREW ASTLEFORD FS Florida
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —Matt Moore’s first eight starts should carry a caution and reason to imagine, if only for a moment, how far the left-hander’s skill could lead. After all, these are the initial glimpses of what could be a unique display, even in the House of David Price.
In many ways, the 23-year-old is an unfinished project, untamed and unrefined. This is his second full season in the majors, and he holds a 2.44 ERA. After the
Rays' 5-3 win over the Boston Red Sox Tuesday, he is the first pitcher in team history to reach 7-0 and just the second starter younger than age 24 in the past seven seasons to do so, joining the Texas Rangers’ Tommy Hunter from 2010.
But here lies the caution in Moore’s example: It’s unwise to presume regular-season results from a starter’s spring training performance, even if returns are grisly.
Remember Moore’s troubled times in Port Charlotte, Fla.? Remember his 3.80 ERA in 21 1/3 innings? Remember his staff-high 14 walks, twice as many as the second-place finisher in the category, right-hander Juan Sandoval? Remember the concern about a mechanical flaw in his delivery?
Remember when Moore was the Rays’ largest question in late March? Rays manager Joe Maddon, for one, hasn’t forgotten. And he chooses to wipe his feet on the memory, like it’s a tattered rug.
“This is a classic example of not judging a player by his spring training performance,” Maddon said after his team’s sixth consecutive victory. “Classic example.”
Moore was back at work Tuesday, looking once more like the Rays’ strongest threat on the mound. He struck out eight and calmed down after allowing a three-run screamer to David Ortiz over the right-field wall in the top of the first inning. The rest of his final five innings looked sharp, considering the precarious start: three runs, three hits and two walks in six innings — all numbers that proved more than enough on a night when
Tampa Bay tagged reeling Boston for five runs and 11 hits.
“It sounds good,” Moore said of becoming the first 7-0 starter in Rays history. “By no means did I have as much to do with that as the record may look like. Without saying, it’s absolutely a team thing. If you look at how many runs they’ve been putting up when I pitch, it’s pretty incredible.”
True, Moore’s run has been far from spotless. And he’s right that it’s no solo act. Tampa Bay is undefeated in his eight appearances, earning run totals of 10, seven, 10 and five in his past four. After allowing a combined four earned runs in his first five starts, Moore has surrendered nine in the past three.
But such a trend allows room to wonder how much Moore can grow. Maddon insists, correctly, there’s more inside his emerging star, like controlling a sometimes-sporadic fastball.
The manager is confident that Moore’s current spark is a hint of the seasoning the pitcher will show in the next two years, a point at which Maddon says Moore “could be an accomplished pitcher.” Meanwhile, catcher Jose Molina, when approached postgame Tuesday about how much more the left-hander can accomplish, turned the inquiry around.
“How old is he?” Molina said, as more of a statement than anything else.
“Remember, he’s just learning right now — how to pitch, how to get these guys out, how to get some other guys out, how to battle in the goods, how to battle in the bads, how to battle the regulars,” Molina continued. “He’s got a lot of improvement to go. A lot. A lot. I’m saying a lot. Right now, we can say he’s 7-0, but the maturity he had on the mound (Tuesday) — he kept battling. Today, he gave up a three-run homer ... Easily, another guy could have quit in five innings, three innings, four innings or gave up six, seven or eight runs.”
That’s the interesting part about Moore’s emergence. It’s remarkable, especially for someone who has appeared in just 42 major-league games. But in many ways, it’s also a tease. This isn’t supposed to be his time. He’s supposed to wait.
“When I do a better job of staying in that three-to-four pitches to each hitter, I feel like there’s a lot more,” Moore said. “There’s especially a lot more innings to come.”