Matt Moore may have finally found his groove.
After a disappointing first two months in which he fell to 1-5 with a 4.76 ERA, the 22-year-old left-hander rebounded to win three straight starts, allowing five earned runs in his last 19 innings of work.
His turnaround was highlighted by his last outing, which saw Moore throw seven scoreless innings with just one hit allowed, eight strikeouts and three walks against the Marlins on June 15.
"I feel like it's been a while since I've had all three pitches throughout the night," Moore said of his fastball, changeup and curveball. "It's a lot more fun to pitch like that."
That night, Moore relied heavily on his curveball. With renewed success, the pitch has become more of a weapon than just another option, and it was particularly handy to get first-pitch strikes. Though it wasn't used much more than his other pitches, it served as a strong complement to the rest of his repertoire.
"As soon as he started throwing breaking balls in the game -- you can see when he pitches the breaking ball for a strike like three or four times -- he's starting to feel more comfortable, and I feel more comfortable to call that pitch," catcher Jose Lobaton said. "You gotta work with what they've got that game, and yesterday he had everything working good. He had a breaking ball, he had a changeup and he had a fastball, so I was comfortable to call any pitch that he wants."
As happy as Moore and Lobaton are when things are clicking, the defense may be even happier.
"That was as well as I've seen him command that curveball, and his other two pitches were just as good as they were last week against these guys," utility man Ben Zobrist said of Moore, whose last two starts were against Miami. "From the start, I think he wanted to mix in that curveball more, and it worked out well for him."
Outfielder Desmond Jennings more succinctly summed up Moore's approach: "That's Matty right there, all day."
Expectations were high for Moore entering the 2012 season. He had shown flashes of brilliance in 2011, posting a 2.89 ERA in three appearances during the regular season. He was even better in the American League Division Series, allowing a single run over 10 innings against a high-powered Rangers lineup.
In his combined appearances between the regular season and playoffs, Moore had 23 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings pitched.
However, the start of 2012 was less than desirable, as he struggled to maintain consistency between starts. Yet, he has experienced a swift resurgence with three very strong June outings.
For Moore, it all starts with establishing a rhythm, and that begins by throwing first-pitch strikes. And when he gets the leadoff batter in the early innings, it usually means positive results for the Rays.
"If he gets by that first batter successfully, his confidence continues to get up even higher," manager Joe Maddon said. "As the game continues and he's putting up some zeros, his confidence continues, and that's typical young guy stuff. As he starts believing in his stuff and trusting in himself, you're going to see him take off. He's more in control of his emotions, a little more deliberate."
If Moore's confidence continues to grow from start to start, the Rays will not only have yet another formidable weapon in the rotation to keep pace in the AL East, but it may mean trouble for the entire league as well.
"If he's able to continue forward right now and command his fastball a little bit better and get a feel for that, you're gonna see him take off," Maddon said.