Matt Moore hasn’t taken the mound in the Bronx since baffling the New York Yankees last September in his first big league start.
The Tampa Bay Rays could surely use another dazzling display from Moore on Sunday as they try to gain ground in the AL East in the finale of a crucial three-game set against the Yankees.
Trying to catch both New York (82-63) and Baltimore in the East, third-place Tampa Bay (78-67) suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles earlier this week before beating the Yankees 6-4 on Friday. The Rays, though, failed to get much going against Ivan Nova in Saturday’s 5-3 defeat, dropping four games behind New York with 17 to go.
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While Tampa Bay’s postseason hopes remain alive, its chances of winning the division will fade with another defeat Sunday.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who hit his 12th homer in Saturday’s loss.
The Rays will try to regroup behind Moore (10-10, 3.68 ERA), who may be looking forward to getting back to Yankee Stadium. The highly-touted left-hander struck out a career-high 11 over five scoreless innings in his lone outing there, a 15-8 victory Sept. 22.
“I like it,” manager Joe Maddon told the Rays’ official website. “We did like Matt pitching here. Part of it is a lefty thing, and he’s pitched well here in the past… I feel good about him here.”
Since going 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA over an eight-start stretch July 17-Aug. 24, though, Moore has gotten off track. He’s compiled a 4.41 ERA in losing his last three starts to match the longest skid of his brief career.
Moore labored through his shortest outing of the season Tuesday, yielding three runs, four hits and three walks over four innings of a 9-2 loss at Baltimore.
“If I was like, ‘I feel like it’s not coming out of my arm’ or, ‘It feels heavy or sore,’ that would be an issue,” said Moore, who according to recent reports may have been tipping his pitches. “But my arm feels good right now, and my entire body feels good. I think it might have just been a little dip there, and we’ll see how it goes on Sunday.”
Moore also struggled in his last matchup versus New York on Sept. 5, giving up six runs – four earned – over 6 1-3 innings of a 6-4 loss. He fell to 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA in three career starts in this series.
Moore has held Curtis Granderson hitless in six at-bats but will need to be wary of the hot-hitting center fielder, who has five homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games.
New York gives the ball to Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.17). The right-hander surrendered four runs over six innings opposite Moore earlier this month, improving to 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA in two career matchups versus Tampa Bay.
Kuroda allowed three runs and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings of Tuesday’s 4-3 loss at Boston but could benefit from getting back home, where he’s 5-2 with a 1.85 ERA in his last nine outings.
Kuroda has also thrived in day games, posting a 0.84 ERA in six starts – nearly three runs lower this his 3.82 mark at night.