Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Moore eager to build on late-season success

PORT CHARLOTTE — No matter how mundane and repetitive the drills may be when the Rays open spring training this weekend, Matt Moore won't have any complaints.

Having battled through physical struggles and mental doubts to make it back last season from April 2014 Tommy John elbow surgery, Moore couldn't be more excited about being bored by the normal schedule the other 30-plus pitchers are on.

And then he is really looking forward to the chance to re-establish himself as something special.

"Having laid a couple of roots down last year and feeling good about it, I think heading into this year I'm not going in with necessarily something to prove, but I know who I am and I know the things I'm capable of doing," Moore said last week. "So I'm going to expect those things out of myself."

Moore, 26, doesn't have quite the blazing easy fastball from when he first arrived at the end of the 2011 season, but he is confident the overall arsenal is good enough to resume his past success. It wasn't that long ago, just 2013, when he went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA and made the American League All-Star team.

As hard as Moore worked with Ron Porterfield and the rest of the Rays medical staff to get back early last July, he wasn't ready.

And it showed.

The six-start stint was tough to watch as Moore went 1-3 with an 8.78 ERA, failing to get to the fifth inning four times and never an out past it and allowing 58 baserunners in 262/3 innings. The elbow felt fine, but Moore began to have other doubts. So did scouts. And even people around the Rays, wondering when, or even if, he'd ever be the same.

A difficult but, as manager Kevin Cash said, "needed" decision was made to send Moore back to Triple-A Durham for a month. There, he would have the time and the innings, but not the scrutiny or pressure of the results-oriented majors, to work his way back.

And it couldn't have worked out much better, as Moore returned with confidence and determination.

Not only was he throwing the ball better, and harder, but he was getting rewarded with the results as immediate gratification, including seven shutout innings against the Orioles (two hits, nine Ks) and a season-ending win over the playoff-bound Blue Jays.

"He could not have had a better finish," Cash said.

The even bigger bonus was the peace of mind that would carry Moore through the offseason.

"That was definitely nice," he said. "A couple of those games, regardless of what happened before that, you try to focus on those ones and kind of re-live those moments so it can happen more often."

Moore knows better than to make predictions, but the confidence seems obvious. His winter workouts at the Trop have been impressive.

When Cash and baseball operations president Matt Silverman talk about Moore at today's pre-spring media session, the only question may be whether the Rays will have a specific (and public) plan to limit his innings. Moore threw only 114 in games last season between the minors and majors, so even a 20 percent jump would leave him a bit shy of a full workload.

With Chris Archer at the front of the rotation and Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez at the back, the Rays need Moore, as well as Drew Smyly, who is coming off shoulder problems and even more likely to have his workload limited, to be healthy and good.

Moore is ready to do his part, happy to be going to camp as just one of the guys, focusing on getting ready for the April start to the season rather than worrying about what his elbow is going to feel like with each step.

"Having some things put to rest, I knew when I let go of the ball that my arm feels good, that things with my elbow seemed to be in place and there was nothing that was bothering me going into the winter," he said. "That's probably one of the biggest things, not worrying about baseball."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

   
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