PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Moore slung baseballs a couple weeks ago against a cinderblock wall on the first level of the barn behind his South Jersey home.
He had to do something to keep his arm in shape.
Moore left the Phillies last month and isolated himself for one week because of COVID-19 contact tracing. He never tested positive, but his departure bumped him from the rotation and moved him into the bullpen. He pitched for the first time in 18 days in Wednesday night’s 5-4 victory over the Brewers at Citizens Bank Park. He recorded three big outs in the seventh inning as the Phillies (16-15) moved over .500 for the first time since April 18.
“I kind of felt all right, like, it’s not new, it’s just been a little while,” Moore said. “Then from there you just try to pick up the dirty spot in the glove.”
It was a big night for the Phillies’ bullpen, which needed to hold a one-run lead after Didi Gregorius’ first-inning grand slam staked them to a 5-0 lead. Chase Anderson and JoJo Romero allowed three runs in the fifth to make it 5-4. The game would have been tied except Odúbel Herrera threw out Daniel Vogelbach at the plate in the third. It was not a great throw, but J.T. Realmuto made a great tag and Vogelbach’s lead foot never touched the plate, leading to a replay reversal.
Héctor Neris and Sam Coonrod were unavailable after each earned five-out saves Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Archie Bradley remains sidelined indefinitely because of a strained left oblique.
Brandon Kintzler picked up four outs on 12 pitches in the fifth and sixth. Moore pitched the seventh.
Enyel De Los Santos pitched a scoreless eighth. He was supposed to pitch Tuesday, except the Phillies left him off the umpires’ lineup card. José Alvarado pitched a scoreless ninth. He finished a two-game suspension on Tuesday for inciting a benches-and-bullpens-clearing incident Friday night against the New York Mets.
But Moore’s performance jumped out because of everything that led to it. The Phillies signed him to a one-year, $3 million contract in February because they needed help in the back of the rotation. He started the season as the team’s No. 4 starter, but he posted a 9.82 ERA in three starts before he landed on the COVID-19 injured list. He returned on April 26, but by then he had lost his job in the rotation to Vince Velasquez.
The Phillies put Moore in the bullpen, but he never pitched.
“This was one of the harder things I’ve had to do in my career because we brought him back because we needed him and we needed some length and then we never got in a game where we needed length,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “And then he didn’t throw for a long period of time and I was frustrated for him and he was a true pro. He just wanted to get back out there, so we’ll find spots for him for sure.”
Moore said he is not upset about how things played out. In fact, he said he is embracing it.
“Vince has had a couple good starts back to back,” Moore said. “From being overseas [pitching last season in Japan] and being on some losers before that, being with this group right here, it's been a long time since I've felt all-in the way I am right now. Whether my role is in the starting rotation or if it's the long guy in the bullpen or somewhere in between, that's where I'm at right now and I feel really good about where our club's at. Being a part of that is the biggest thing to me.”
Who knows? Maybe Moore thrives in the bullpen. Or maybe he returns to the rotation at some point.
“We've all watched enough baseball to know that things don't always stay the same,” Moore said. “But if they do and we're winning, that's where I want to be a part of -- a winning club that's on their way up, and that's how it feels right now.”