Matt Moore allowed just one earned run in six innings while B.J. Upton went 2-4 with a two-run double to lead the Tampa Bay Rays past the Baltimore Orioles 8-4 on Sunday. The win puts the Rays back on top of the American League East by a game over the Orioles and pushes their record within the division to 17-12 – the best mark among their rivals. It also gives Tampa Bay a 4-0-1 record in their last five series against AL East foes.
After an up-and-down start to his rookie season, Moore has delivered above-average performances in back-to-back games. Facing two first-place clubs this week, he allowed just three earned runs in 13 innings. He struck out 14 batters and walked four. On Sunday, the lefty did not show his best stuff, but limited the damage by inducing seven groundball outs.
Moore has made a small adjustment to his pitch selection in the last two starts. He is throwing his breaking ball a bit more and slightly backed off his fastball. The usage of his changeup has remained static yet effective.
The 23-year-old is not throwing his secondary pitches just for the sake of throwing them. Moore is using them to rack up both strikes and outs as well. Of the 39 outs he generated against Baltimore and the Chicago White Sox, 19 of them came on either a changeup or a breaking ball. The rookie is also showing better command, pounding the lower region of the strike zone with his softer stuff while moving his fastball as needed.
The more balanced attack has also led to increased efficiency. In his first nine starts, Moore averaged 19 pitches per inning. He averaged just 15 pitches per frame this week.
Temporary leadoff hitter Carlos Pena went 0-1 in the box score, but did reach base twice via walks. Recently, hits have been few and far between for Pena; however, the first baseman is keeping the ball elevated on a consistent basis. As long as he keeps it simple – swinging at strikes while passing on balls – and lifting balls in the air, his bat should get toasty as we head into the official start of summer. The same can be said for Ben Zobrist, who ended a career-long, extra-base hit drought (59 at-bats) with a double in the sixth inning.
The Rays will get a little extra time to savor their place in the standings as the team travels to New York today on their off-day before opening a three-game set with the Yankees on Tuesday. James Shields, Alex Cobb, and David Price will go for the Rays while New York counters with Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, and CC Sabathia.
Tampa Bay will face two lefty starters for the third straight series, but will get a boost to the lineup with Desmond Jennings set to re-join the team. The addition of his right-handed bat at the top of the order, as well as his defense in the outfield, will have a positive cascading effect throughout the lineup and in the field.