Maddon knows what he has in Moore
Bonus notes from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Rays-Red Sox game on Saturday . . .
I’ll admit it, I thought Joe Maddon was nuts.
When I covered Davey Johnson with the Orioles, I admired how he would remove a young pitcher after a strong outing, allowing him to build confidence. Johnson mostly did this with starters, but his logic applied to relievers, too.
Well, Maddon wasn’t content Saturday when Rays left-hander Matt Moore, making his second major league appearance, escaped a jam in the sixth inning after issuing back-to-back, one-out walks to the Red Sox’s Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz.
No, Maddon sent Moore out for the seventh, and then the eighth. Never mind that the game was a must-win for the Rays. That Moore gave up a run in the seventh to reduce the Rays’ lead to 4-3. That he had to fight through the heart of the Boston order a second time and control his breathing in front of an electric crowd at Fenway Park.
Maddon knew what he had in Moore, even though he never had seen the kid throw until his major league debut Wednesday night.
Moore, 22, is one of the game’s top pitching prospects, maybe the very best. And, as he demonstrated during Saturday’s game and afterward, his makeup and poise are off the charts.
A dozen reporters gathered around Moore’s locker after the Rays’ 4-3 victory. The rookie turned around, smiled and asked, “How’s everybody doing?”
Maddon, too, was smiling as he spoke about Moore after the Rays reduced the Red Sox’s lead in the AL wild-card race to three games.
“He’s the joker. He’s the wild card,” Maddon said. “Hopefully, he IS the wild card.”
Maddon, by the way, didn’t view his decision to use Moore for three innings, with no one warming up behind him, as particularly gutsy.
Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth is dealing with an elbow issue, depleting an already thin bullpen. Moore had the best stuff among the other relievers. He is filthy against both righties and lefties. And he was a starter all through the minors, so stretching him to 58 pitches was not a problem.
Listening to Maddon, I thought back to another Davey Johnson tenet, the one about allowing players to “express their talent.”
Maddon did just that with lefty David Price in 2008, using him in the same role that Moore is in now. Heck, Jack McKeon did it with Josh Beckett in ’03, choosing him to pitch the deciding game of the World Series on three days’ rest at old Yankee Stadium, when Beckett was just 23.
Sometimes, you just let ’em go.
Saturday was one of those times, especially because Maddon was reluctant to start trying to match up with his other relievers. As Tim McCarver noted on the broadcast, once Moore got through the seventh, it made sense for him to start the eighth against the lefty hitters Gonzalez, Ortiz and Josh Reddick.
Conor Jackson hit for Reddick, but by then Moore had settled down — he retired his last five hitters and pitched a perfect eighth. Righty Joel Peralta worked the ninth for the save, even though Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said he would have been “perfectly comfortable” with Moore closing the game, too.
The comparisons to Price in ’08 are inevitable, even though Moore was a seventh-round draft pick while Price was a No. 1 overall selection.
Price noted one other difference.
“I didn’t throw an easy 98 like that,” he said.
AND IF THE RED SOX HOLD ON . . .
On Friday, I wrote that even if the Red Sox reach the postseason, they may not last long.
The Sox clearly are vulnerable to left-handed pitching without Kevin Youkilis. They face numerous other health concerns. And they’re 4-12 in September heading into an unfavorable matchup between Price and Tim Wakefield on Sunday.
Still, if the Red Sox can just qualify, they might stand a chance to reach the World Series — particularly if they face the Tigers rather than the Rangers in the first round.
The Red Sox are 5-1 against the Tigers and their all-right-handed rotation but only 4-6 against the Rangers, who could start left-handers four times in a best-of-five series.
Keep in mind also that the Sox could eliminate the soft underbelly of their pitching staff in the playoffs, leaning heavily on Beckett and Jon Lester in the rotation and Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen.
And should the Sox advance past the first round to face the Yankees?
Well, they ARE 11-4 against New York this season.
BIG PAPI ON RAYS’ HICKEY: ‘SOMETHING SPECIAL’
As I reported during the broadcast, David Ortiz pulled me aside at the batting cage Friday and grew animated making a point — unsolicited — that Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey doesn’t get enough credit for his team’s success.
Ortiz said there is “something special” about Hickey, citing several examples:
• Farnsworth becoming more of a pitcher now rather than just a thrower since joining the Rays this season.
• Rookie righty Jeremy Hellickson keeping the Red Sox off-balance Thursday night in the series opener.
• Veteran righty James Shields turning even nastier with a seven-run lead during a recent start at Tampa Bay.
“They will throw any pitch in any count for a strike,” Ortiz said. “All of them do that. All of them!”
Alas, the other Rays coaches were dismayed that I related the story on air, jokingly claiming that Hickey would grow insufferable after hearing such praise.
Well, here’s more:
The Rays have posted a 3.25 ERA against the AL East. Since the introduction of the current divisional format in 1994, only one team has posted a lower ERA in one season against the AL East — the Angels, who had a 2.76 ERA in 2002.
The Angels played 41 games against the East that season. The Rays already have played 61.
THE RED SOX’S MEDICAL MISERY
Some might consider the Red Sox unlucky, the victim of a perfect storm of injuries. Club officials, however, do not view the situation as random.
A year ago, the Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Cameron to season-ending injuries. The team also had health issues during the 2009 playoffs and down the stretch in ’08.
“It’s not just bad luck,” one club official said. “Something is not right there. And we’ve got to fix it.”
The Sox are considered one of the most progressive clubs not only with statistical analysis, but also with their throwing programs for pitchers.
Some of their injuries ARE the result of poor luck, while others may stem from advanced age and perhaps inadequate conditioning.
Still, no team has figured out how to reduce injuries — not just the number that occur, but also the amount of time that players miss.
WHO IS THE MVP?
The Red Sox took an unusual step Friday, releasing a one-page news release in support of the MVP candidacies of Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez.
The team’s beat writers couldn’t remember the team doing such a thing in the past, and the release did not include any mention of two other Red Sox candidates, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
Ellsbury might be the team’s strongest MVP possibility. He is the only AL player this season with 100 runs, 90 RBI, 25 homers and 30 stolen bases — and one of only 20 players in history to reach those marks.
He also is one of the game’s top defensive center fielders, according to both traditional and advanced metrics.
BE LIKE MIKE, OR IS IT JOHN?
For the skinny on why the Rays refer to catcher John Jaso as “Mike,” go back to 2008, when Jaso was a September call-up.
The Rays called Jaso to the front of the team bus to sing Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” as part of a rookie-hazing stunt.
Former Rays first baseman Carlos Pena had the microphone, acting as the emcee. He started to introduce Jaso by saying, “Welcome to the stage, Mike . . .”
All of the players looked at one another. There was no “Mike” on the Rays at that time. Pena obviously didn’t know Jaso’s name.
After saying, “Mike,” Pena paused and said, “Jaso.” And the Rays have called him “Mike” ever since.
AROUND THE HORN
• Is there any doubt that the Rays’ Maddon should be AL Manager of the Year? The Rays lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and virtually their entire bullpen, yet will contend until at least the final week.
Jim Leyland is the other leading candidate in the AL. No doubt Leyland has done a tremendous job, but the Tigers’ Opening Day payroll was $105.7 million, and they’ve since added to it.
The Rays’ Opening Day payroll was $41 million.
• Rays third baseman Evan Longoria missed nearly a month with a strained left oblique. He needed nearly a month after that to return to form. But since June 11, he leads the AL with 24 homers and the majors with 79 RBI.
Longoria’s batting average is only .244, but his underlying statistics point to poor luck; he has one of the lowest batting averages on balls in play in the AL.
“They say they all even out at some point,” Longoria said. “They really don’t.”
Longoria said he gave up on his batting average and began focusing on run production about two months ago. Still, he has drawn enough walks to produce a .348 on-base percentage, not far off his .361 mark entering the season.
• Sox infielder Mike Aviles told me that he asked the Royals to trade him, knowing he wasn’t part of the team’s long-term plan.
The Royals had shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas ahead of Aviles. Chris Getz also was on the roster, and Johnny Giavotella was on his way.
Well, Aviles has proven a godsend for the Sox, given the absences of Kevin Youkilis and Jed Lowrie. He lacks the power that teams normally want at third base, but he hits good pitching when he’s locked in.
The Sox’s addition of Aviles, like their addition of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia a year ago, was more a long-term than short-term move. But Aviles, in 75 plate appearances since joining the Sox on Aug. 1, is batting .361/.373/.458.
• In retrospect, perhaps the Rays should have added a hitter at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but the team was 8-1/2 games out of a playoff spot at that time and reluctant to trade its young talent.
Another factor: The Rays didn’t want to disrupt their defense.
Joe Maddon says the effect is noticeable when the team is below-average or even average defensively at a position. The Rays succeed because some of the players who struggle offensively keep them competitive defensively.
• Rays rookie left fielder Desmond Jennings got off to a ridiculously hot start after the Rays recalled him on July 23, prompting some to wonder whether the team waited too long.
Jennings continues to prove a difference-maker – his speed gives the entire team energy – but the Rays delayed his promotion because he was coming off an inconsistent, injury-marred season at Triple A. He had changed his swing, and club officials wanted him to prove that he was ready.
• Finally, it comes as no surprise to Rays broadcaster and former major league pitcher Brian Anderson that the last-place Orioles have beaten the contending Rays and Angels twice each in the past week.
Anderson, who played for Buck Showalter with the Diamondbacks from 1998 to 2000, said that when the D-backs fell out of contention, Showalter would urge his players to “ruin” other teams’ seasons.
Seems like Showalter is still preaching that philosophy with the Orioles.