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MI -- For the vast majority of the evening, this was exactly the Matt Moore the Tampa Bay Rays had in mind.
For most of Saturday night, Moore was superb in the 13th start of his Major League life. He stymied the Miami Marlins, while his teammates scored in all manner of ways, from two home runs by Ben Zobrist to a squeeze bunt by Moore himself. The result was a 9-0 Tampa Bay lead after five innings.
The night still had a happy ending for the Rays -- a 13-4 victory, their second straight in this three-game Interleague series.
"Maybe our best game all year," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Moore's bottom line was a little more mixed, the result of a four-run Miami sixth that included a three-run home run by Justin Ruggiano on a 3-2 fastball.
But once again, Moore's immense talent had been on display, as he struck out nine in six innings giving him 71 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings this season.
"There's definitely room to grow," Maddon said of Moore. "The finished product is probably two-to-three years down the road, at least. But for right now, I'll take it. He's a young left-hander with an outstanding arm, great delivery, the ease with which he throws the ball, it jumps out. That's all probably un-teachable. You either have it or you don't. He has it.
"Now we have to build up the baseball acumen so that he's able to take a game like that and go into the seventh, eighth inning possibly. That's coming. He's a young man and he's still growing and he's still learning. But that is some kind of arm and I do believe he's making progress."
Moore had an uneven start to this season, but that can happen to 22-year-old pitchers no matter how talented they are. But his last two starts before this one, against the White Sox and the Orioles, demonstrated Moore's talent and potential and his progress. He gave up three earned runs over 13 innings for an ERA of 2.08 in those two starts.
For five innings Saturday night, Moore produced a dominant performance, allowing no runs and only two hits. With a large lead there wasn't much reason to vary pitch selection and that led to the 3-2 fastball to Ruggiano.
"I don't even know, if we weren't up by so many runs if I might have pitched a different pitch," Moore said. "We were actually trying to go low and away. I played with him last year and he likes the ball out there. I wound up missing down and in. I thought it was a pretty decent pitch, but he obviously ran right into it."
Moore could be termed in the classical sense as a "stylish lefty" for the grace and fluid economy of his delivery. But when the ball leaves his hand and explodes upon the hitter, the "stylish" definition is left behind, overtaken, overpowered, much like the hitter in question. Moore is throwing mid-90s fastballs to precise locations with apparent ease.
Expectations for Moore have soared, based on the widely held regard for his abilities, and for his work in a brief stint with the Rays last season. That included 11 strikeouts in five innings in a start against the Yankees and a victorious start over the eventual American League champion Texas Rangers in an American League Division Series. Both MLB Network and Baseball Prospectus named Moore the leading prospect in all of baseball. Their point did not require further debate.
But what about Moore's own expectations for his performance? "If you talk about as far as results go, not so much," Moore said. "Obviously, I'd like to be better than 3-5, with an ERA of four-something [4.59]. I'd like to be better than that on paper.
"But as a club, we're playing well. Tonight, I gave up that three-run home run, but we were still up by five, so it didn't sting quite as bad. We did an unbelievable job when we got somebody on of getting him in. It was a lot of fun pitching behind something like that."
The remainder of Tampa Bay's rotation is in fine shape. The Rays are one of the few clubs in baseball with a surplus of starters, and this condition exists even with Jeff Niemann on the disabled list. Wade Davis pitches out of the bullpen here and on almost every other club in the Majors, he would be a lock to start. David Price and Jeremy Hellickson have both pitched with particularly consistent effectiveness. Overall, the Rays lead the AL in team ERA.
This club can absorb some on-the-job training for Moore. But distinctly on the plus side, the Rays can also look at performances such as the first five innings Saturday night that suggest just how bright Moore's future will be.