ST. PETERSBURG — Maybe he really wasn't throwing all that well in winning his first eight decisions. Or maybe the awkward scheduling caused by the May 31 rain in Cleveland had a lingering impact. Or maybe he overcompensated for his wildness last time out by throwing too many good pitches in the strike zone Sunday.
Whether any, or all, of those theories floating around the Rays clubhouse after the 10-7 loss to the Orioles are valid, or whether there is something else, something worse, in play, the results are obvious:
Matt Moore is pitching poorly right now.
"It started in that Cleveland thing," manager Joe Maddon said. "One inning and 11 pitches, and then we gave him several days off and he goes to Detroit, not so good there, and then, of course, today was not good, either."
Seemingly once a sure thing, Moore's second straight brutally bad outing has made him the latest question mark in unexpectedly tenuous rotation that may define their season.
The loss — despite a spirited comeback from 10-3 to get the tying run to the plate in the ninth — dropped the Rays to 34-28 and back into fourth place in the crowded American League East, with the first-place Red Sox coming to town tonight.
Moore insisted he had already forgotten Tuesday's debacle in Detroit, when he allowed six runs on seven hits and six walks and lasted two innings, when he took the mound Sunday.
But that actually looked okay compared to how he did against the Orioles, allowing a major-league career-high nine runs (eight earned) and a pro-, and possibly life-, worst 12 hits, including six doubles and a massive Adam Jones home run.
The primary issue was actually a compound problem: With his fastball velocity inexplicably down again, Moore turned more to his offspeed pitches and didn't have command of either his changeup or curveball, and his mistakes — though in the strike zone — got hit hard.
While the lack of command can be fixed, the drop in velocity — nearly 2 mph from last year, according to fangraphs.com, with an average of 92.4 — is a bit more troubling.
Moore and Maddon both said there is nothing wrong with Moore's arm, no soreness or injury issue, though they didn't have an explanation, either.
"It's nothing physical. There's no pain. I don't feel weak. I really do not know what to speak of it," Moore said. "It's something that I feel my fastball is my biggest weapon, it's what I need to pitch with for me to be successful. Obviously it'd be nice to be throwing 95 again, sitting right around there, but those are things that are out of my control right now."
Maddon believes the disruption to Moore's schedule is part of the problem, limited to the one inning in Cleveland May 31 then coming back three days later in Detroit, but Moore said it wasn't.
Whereas the problem in Detroit was wildness, illustrated by a career-worst six walks, Moore felt the bigger issue Sunday was missing in the strike zone, giving up hits on pitches "that were way too good," including six in two-strike counts.
"Detroit and this game are completely different in my mind," Moore said. "You look at six walks and (12 hits). (Today), I would actually say I feel like I just got shelled to death more so than putting runners on when they didn't have to do very much. They were doing everything.
"Every time I looked up the ball was in the gap. Our outfielders were diving, running their butts off."
While the results are starkly different, Maddon claimed Moore actually hasn't pitched that much worse since his 8-0 start.
"This whole season really he has not been a command kind of a pitcher," Maddon said. "Right now he's making mistakes that are being hit.
"I think earlier in the season he might have been making mistakes that were not being hit. So it's not like it's entirely different than early."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]