Rays look for back-to-back wins behind Moore

Tune into Sun Sports at 6:30 p.m. to watch the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Boston Red Sox.

Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore is universally considered among baseball’s top pitching prospects, but his performance thus far in 2012 has been disappointing.

Boston Red Sox southpaw Felix Doubront flies under the radar, but is proving a reliable cog in the rotation in his first full season in the majors.

Moore will oppose Doubront for the second time this season Thursday night at Tropicana Field as the AL East-leading Rays go for a five-game overall winning streak and a two-game sweep of the Red Sox before beginning interleague play.

The 22-year-old Moore (1-3, 5.31 ERA) appeared destined for stardom last fall, after throwing five shutout innings to win at Yankee Stadium in his first major league start, then allowing one run and three hits over 10 postseason innings, earning the Rays’ only victory in their division series against Texas.

Success hasn’t come as easily in 2012. Moore’s first decision was a loss April 15 at Fenway Park, where – starting opposite Doubront – he gave up six runs, eight hits and four walks in 6 1-3 innings of the Rays’ 6-4 defeat.

Moore pitched better in subsequent outings, but has failed to make it out of the fifth inning of either of his last two.

He allowed eight runs in 4 2-3 innings of a 9-5 home loss to Oakland on May 6, then surrendered four runs over 4 1-3 innings Saturday, getting charged with a 5-3 loss at Baltimore. Only one of the runs against the Orioles was earned in a game where the Rays (24-14) made five errors, but Moore walked four batters and labored through 101 pitches.

“Yes, they made some errors out there, but they can’t defend against my walks, my 2-0 counts, other stuff I did out there,” Moore said.

Doubront (3-1, 4.46), meanwhile, appeared to be almost an afterthought in the No. 4 spot of the Boston rotation after making 33 appearances in 2010 and 2011 but spending more of his time in the minors. He failed to get the decision April 15, when he allowed four runs and a season-high nine hits in five innings.

However, he has been steady since then, pitching through the sixth inning in four of his last five outings and winning two of his last three. Doubront’s start Saturday against Cleveland was his finest of the season, as he limited the Indians to one run and three hits over six innings of a 4-1 victory.

“We couldn’t get any offense going against Doubront. He was pitching to both sides of the plate,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “He just neutralized all of our left-handed hitters and even our switch-hitters.”

Neither team got much offense going in Wednesday’s series opener, but the Rays produced just enough for a 2-1 win. Luke Scott’s shallow sacrifice fly scored Matt Joyce with the deciding run in the sixth.

Tampa Bay went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position, but the top five spots in the Boston lineup managed one hit – a Dustin Pedroia single – in 19 at-bats as the Red Sox (17-20) saw their five-game winning streak snapped.

Both teams will open interleague play Friday with matchups against NL East opponents. The Rays will host Atlanta while the Red Sox visit Philadelphia.