With Upton back, Rays ready to take on Twins

Tune into Sun Sports at 6:30 p.m to watch the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Minnesota Twins.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Moore entered 2012 with lofty expectations after two overpowering big-league starts last season.

The highly touted left-hander, though, hasn’t exactly lived up to the billing thus far.

With Moore looking to get on track and B.J. Upton reinstated from the 15-day disabled list and ready to make his season debut, Tampa Bay tries for a ninth consecutive regular-season home victory as it opens a three-game set with the struggling Minnesota Twins on Friday night.

Moore (0-1, 5.54 ERA), who in his first career start struck out 11 over five innings during a 15-8 win at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 22, went on to throw seven innings of two-hit ball in a 9-0 victory at Texas in last season’s AL division series.

It’s safe to say the 22-year-old, however, has had a difficult time duplicating those results early on.

After giving up two runs, four hits and five walks over 6 2-3 innings of 5-2 loss at Detroit on April 10, Moore was tagged for six, eight and four, respectively, over 6 1-3 innings of Sunday’s 6-4 defeat at Boston.

“I haven’t seen too many swings like that against (Moore),” catcher Chris Gimenez, who suggested Moore may have been tipping his pitches, told the team’s official website. “We don’t know if they (knew what was coming ahead of time) or not. Something we have to keep in the back of our heads.”

While the Rays (7-6) have provided Moore with just six runs of support, they enter this six-game homestand hot at the plate. After falling 7-3 at Toronto on Tuesday, Tampa Bay scored a combined 21 runs over its last two games to take that series – including Thursday’s 9-4 win.

Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria each homered and went a combined 6 for 9 with six RBIs.

“It’s a relief to finally hit another one,” said Longoria, who hadn’t homered since opening day. ” … Like I’ll always say, it’s about winning. We’ve got some good momentum going home.”

The Rays should also receive a boost with Upton expected to be activated from the 15-day DL. He’s been out since colliding with Jennings in the outfield during spring training March 14.

“B.J. definitely makes us a better team,” manager Joe Maddon said. ” … It may take a little time to get him going, based on a sporadic Spring Training and then going on the rehab assignment, but it’s good to get him back. Makes everything better. Makes our defense better, adds more speed to the bases and a power bat. Definite improvement for us.”

In the midst of a seven-game trek, the Twins (4-9) are coming off a four-game split with the Yankees after falling 7-6 on Thursday.

“A disappointing night that we couldn’t get this third game from them. But we’ll take the effort,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team dropped to 2-5 with a 5.74 ERA on the road.

Scheduled to take the mound for Minnesota is Liam Hendriks (0-0, 1.50), who was added to the rotation with Scott Baker (elbow) done for the season. After missing his first start due to food poisoning, the Twins’ 2011 minor league pitcher of the year surrendered one run and seven hits over six innings but didn’t factor in the decision of Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Texas.

“I felt strong but I thought I was getting a little bit tired,” Hendriks told the Twins’ official website. “But that’s going to happen after you’re hospitalized and you miss a start.”

Tampa Bay, which opened its season with a three-game sweep of the Yankees at Tropicana Field, last won nine a row at home June 24-July 10, 2009.