DETROIT — Rookie left-hander Matt Moore is going to pitch very good games this season for the Rays. There will be times when he dominates from the start, blows away hitters with his easy-looking fastball, looks every bit like the whiz kid who came up at the end of last season, tearing through the Red Sox, the Yankees and, in the playoff opener, the Rangers.
It might even happen this afternoon, when he makes his 2012 debut against the hot-swinging Tigers at chilly Comerica Park.
But there also will be games when Moore doesn't dazzle, when he may look very much like a 22-year-old in his first extended big-league action, when he can't throw strikes, when he gets hit early and often. And facing Miguel Cabrera and Price Fielder back-to-back a few times today may not be the best place to start.
"I know it's not going to be easy," Moore said. "Last year, the small time that I had obviously went well. And I know it's not going to be like that. I'm expecting to have to make adjustments this season for sure."
And it's how he handles those struggles that will determine how successful he really is.
"It's going to happen for him at some point, and he has to learn how to get back on track. I feel like that's the toughest part," said starter David Price, who preceded Moore on the phenom track.
"Once you start rolling down that hill, you've got to find a way to stop it. And it's not easy. Every team you face is tough. They know when you're not throwing well. They've seen your past couple starts. The toughest part is when you start to lose it a little bit to get back on top, to find out what you're doing wrong and correct it."
The Rays are confident Moore will be able to adjust, not just because of his talent but because they believe he has the poise, the maturity and the intelligence. Manager Joe Maddon said a player in this position has to be physically, emotionally and mentally ready, and they feel Moore stands apart in all three areas.
"He's an anomaly guy," Maddon said.
"Very mature, well beyond his years," said staff ace James Shields. "There's going to be some times during the season when we're going to have some talks about adversity and some of the things that go on. But he's very receptive. He's very coachable. And he's a good pitcher on top of it. He has all the qualities to be successful."
Moore hasn't always had it easy, which should make it easier to traverse the inevitable ups and downs during his anticipated 33 starts this season.
He was a repeater at rookie-level Princeton (W. Va) in his second pro season after debuting there as an eighth-round pick in 2007. He began the 2010 season at advanced Class A Charlotte, going 0-7 with a 6.63 ERA through his first 11 starts, but then went 6-4, 1.39 and says now that's when he learned, working with pitching coach Neil Allen, what weapons he had and how to make the requisite adjustments to win.
"If you ask any pitcher, when they've got their good stuff and they're controlling it, they can get a lot of guys out in a row," Moore said. "It's a matter of can you get the ball in and out? How's your stuff? If it's not sharp, what are you going to do with it? Those are the adjustments, when you don't have the best stuff you want, that's what I'm talking about."
Just to be opening this season in the big leagues is something of an accomplishment.
"That's pretty incredible," Maddon said. "That just speaks to him. You can talk about development all you want — that's about a player. That's about a unique talent more than anything."
After an offseason and spring of grand expectations, fame and fortune (a long-term deal guaranteeing him $14 million over five years and up to $40 million over eight), Moore is eager to get started. His parents and a half-dozen other relatives will be in the stands today when he walks up the mound.
His manager is confident he is up to the challenge, that "his stuff pitches against the best" and "they're pretty good but I don't think that's going to bother him."
Said Moore: "I'm excited."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]