State of the Rays: Insight to come from Moore’s recovery

Much about Matt Moore’s situation appears unknown. After noticeable progress, a timetable for his return from the disabled list (left elbow soreness) was delayed last Wednesday. The Tampa Bay Rays said the move was made with caution in mind instead of a setback.

Now, the scenario looks very much day-to-day. And with it, more will be learned about his talent and patience.

The young left-hander played catch from about 75 feet with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield on Sunday in right field at Tropicana Field, a session that Moore described as going “exactly like we wanted it to.” He is expected to do the same Monday with more possible progress later in the week.

Even if Moore re-enters the rotation soon, this time away is building toward a chance to show his maturity once he returns. He needs to look no further than ace left-hander David Price for inspiration into how to manage a comeback from a disabled list stint.

This is a test, certainly. But it is one that Moore can grow from if he allows.

Of course, Price has become one of the majors’ most effective pitchers since his return July 2 in Houston from a strained left triceps after almost two months away. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner is 5-1 in nine starts back, and the difference between the pre-DL and post-DL versions of him could not be more clear: He finished July with a 5-1 record and a 1.68 ERA in six starts, and he has posted a 1.96 ERA through three August appearances.

How will Moore perform in his return? The answer is elusive, but Tampa Bay needs the result to be resoundingly positive. Before his left elbow pain, which became noticeable in a five-inning start July 28 at Yankee Stadium, Moore had established himself as one of the game’s most consistent young arms.

Sure, there was the five-start hiccup from May 25-June 14 that included two no-decisions and three consecutive losses. But Moore showed poise in his recovery from that point, earning victories in six consecutive starts from June 20-July 22.

One thing is clear: Tampa Bay must not rush Moore back. It was obvious in his 55-pitch bullpen session last Wednesday that he struggled with comfort and command at times. He is right in saying that “good isn’t great” and “good isn’t 100 percent.” Tampa Bay needs him to be in top shape for what should be an intriguing close to the regular season.

There are telling moments, forks in a path, each year that offer many possible conclusions. Moore’s return will be one of those. Will he come back as good as before? Or will he be something less? Something different?

Price provided a pattern for Moore. But Moore, alone, must confront his challenge ahead.

Consequently, this is a revealing moment for him. Teammates describe him as someone who is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Rays manager Joe Maddon has said, “There is more in Moore,” and that fact should comfort Tampa Bay, given how effective the 24-year-old has been in only his second full major-league season.

But the greats treat injury like any other foe: with unrelenting abandon. This DL stay is another test. This DL stay is another task. This DL stay is another window — no different than sizing up David Ortiz with a full count — into how strong Moore is both on the mound and in his mind.

Before his injury, Moore had been strong, consistent and effective. Now, he must recreate the focus that made him so dangerous to opposing hitters before he felt pain on that Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.

What’s next will reveal much about his direction the rest of the season.

Both the Rays and Moore hope an unknown leads to certainty again.

What’s Hot

Evan Longoria appears to have placed his slump behind him. He has 10 extra-base hits (seven doubles, three home runs) in his in his last 11 games, including a 364-foot solo home run to right field off right-hander Todd Redmond in the first inning of a 2-1 victory in 10 innings over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

Longoria has hit 9 for 22 with two home runs and three RBI in six games from Aug. 13-18. He has also drawn five walks and struck out only four times. He finished July hitting .194, but he has hit .259 in August.

What’s Not

Wil Myers hit 5 for 24 with one home run and six RBI in six games from Aug. 13-18. The stretch included three hitless games and nine strikeouts.

Myers has hit .255 with two home runs and 10 RBI in August. Compared with his torrid July numbers (.352 average/four home runs/18 RBI), his production has declined of late, but he has still had his moments. Last Thursday, in a 7-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field, he went 3 for 4 with four RBI and two doubles.

Quotes of the week

“I just want it to be back to normal. I want to stop talking about it. I want to stop getting attention for anything other than what’s going on the field. I think that we can do that now that this game is past us.”

— Right-hander Alex Cobb, after he pitched for the first time in two months Thursday following his recovery from a mild concussion. He threw five innings and allowed one run and three hits in a victory over the Mariners at Tropicana Field.

“I got today, I don’t know, like 10 ice creams. … (David Price) gave me like four, Matt Joyce gave me like five. And then while I was doing the interviews I had like 10 in my hands. I was like, ‘Ah, I can’t eat it right now.’ “

— Catcher Jose Lobaton, after his game-ending home run in the 10th inning off reliever Brad Lincoln during the Rays’ victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday at Tropicana Field. Awarding ice cream to Lobaton has become habit for the Rays after he hits a home run.

“The magic does occur. We’ve had some pretty magical moments in the bottom part of the batting order. … Those are the kind of things when we have our better years — we get that pitching with tremendous defense and little funky things that happen. Walk-off triples by catchers. Walk-off home runs after a guy punches (out) three times. It’s got that feel to it.”

— Maddon, after Lobaton’s game-ending home run Sunday. The hit marked Lobaton’s second game-ending play in three days (he had none before Friday).

Numbers game

10: Times the Rays have produced game-ending hits this season. They earned three game-ending hits in the most recent homestand, marking the first time they had done so since August 2011.

19-0-1: Rays’ record in their last 20 home series against the Blue Jays. They have not lost a series against Toronto at Tropicana Field since dropping two of three games from April 6-8, 2007.

.309: Yunel Escobar’s batting average since the All-Star break, produced after he has gone 25 for 81 with a .387 on-base percentage in 23 games. On Sunday, he extended his hitting streak to seven games, tying a season high for him.

Tweet of the week


Cobb’s return to the mound Thursday was a sign that normalcy had returned to him and the Rays. For anyone who was present at Tropicana Field on June 15, when a line drive off the bat of the Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer struck Cobb on the right ear, the eerie sights from that day cannot escape memory.

The 25-year-old right-hander is one of the most thoughtful and insightful voices in the Rays’ clubhouse. It was encouraging to see his recovery, and let’s hope no more traumatic events happen at Tropicana Field or elsewhere throughout the majors this season. After his return, Cobb said he hoped the dialogue concerning him could transition to how he performs on the field.

Thank goodness the direction of the discussion has changed.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.