Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Moore improves in latest outing

PORT CHARLOTTE — LHP Matt Moore was sharper, in great control and overall more effective Friday in his fourth outing of the spring.

And he felt a lot better about it.

"I'm happy," he said.

Moore worked five innings in the Rays' 3-1 win over the Phillies, allowing an unearned run — a result of his own error on a pickoff — on three hits, walking two and striking out seven in throwing 85 pitches.

He was still not right — he needed 35 pitches to get through the second inning and he threw mostly 91-92 mph, a few ticks below his normal velocity — but he was better than his first three outings, which was reason enough to smile Friday.

"There were still some moments where it kind of got away," Moore said. "I feel like the third, fourth, fifth innings … it felt like it did in the season last year."

Manager Joe Maddon, who gave Moore a high-five after his final inning, was pleased.

"I thought Matt was a lot better (Friday). Much better command of all of his pitches. Velocity's getting closer to normal. Threw some really good change­ups, a couple better breaking balls. Overall, I thought he had a much better idea of where the fastball was going, and that's what I liked most," Maddon said. "Overall it was better, but there's still another level of him as we've seen in the past."

Moore said the slightly reduced velocity was not a worry. "I feel strong in every sense of the word," he said. "So it's not that big of a concern for us right now."

MORE CUTS: Three players expected to be regulars at Triple A were optioned to the minors after the game: INF Tim Beckham, the top pick in the 2008 draft); C Robinson Chirinos, who missed all of last season after a spring concussion; and SS Hak-Ju Lee, the franchise's top infield prospect. The moves put the spring roster at 45.

FULD STILL OUT: Sam Fuld, already sidelined nearly two weeks with right hamstring tightness, won't be ready to return to games for another 4-5 days, Maddon said.

That would still leave enough time for Fuld, a reserve outfielder who will start against some left-handers, to be ready by opening day with a heavy workload over the final 10 days of exhibitions. "There's not a heavy level of concern right now," Maddon said.

NIEMANN OKAY: RHP Jeff Niemann said his shoulder felt fine Friday, as if he hadn't even pitched the day before, and there shouldn't be any concern about his strength and overall health.

He attributed Thursday's reduced velocity — clocking mostly at 85-86 mph, topping out at 88 mph, 2-3 mph below his norm — to the usual "dead arm" phase of the spring.

"It's about that time for that to happen," Niemann said. "I'm still effective; I'm still getting guys out. That's something you can definitely take away."

FAMILY AFFAIR: Maddon said it was difficult watching RHP Fernando Rodney of the Dominican Republic team facing, and striking out, INF/OF Ben Zobrist of the U.S. team in Thursday's World Baseball Classic game. "It was kind of weird," he said. "I could understand the Harbaughs, the parents (of opposing Super Bowl coaches John and Jim Harbaugh). Who do you root for?"

GAME DETAILS: C Stephen Vogt was greeted first by his teammates and then his 17-month-old daughter, Payton, after hitting a two-run walkoff homer with two outs in the 10th. "In any kind of game, hitting a walkoff is the most exciting play in baseball," Vogt said. "And it was fun." … Shelley Duncan tied it in the seventh with a homer to left over the boardwalk, his team-high third of the spring. … Ryan Roberts said his first experience at first base went okay: "Obviously it's different. … It wasn't too bad." … The Rays' 13 wins match their fourth most for a spring.

MISCELLANY: LHP Jake McGee allowed one hit in a 13-pitch inning in a minor-league game Friday. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he "felt a lot better than the line looked" in Thursday's rough minor-league outing.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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