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Tampa Bay Rays pick rookie Matt Moore to start Game 1 of AL Division Series

ARLINGTON, Texas — Of course they are.

In picking among three potential starters for today's opening game of the best-of-five AL Division Series, the Rays made the most unconventional and boldest choice, selecting 22-year-old left-hander Matt Moore for what will be the fourth appearance and second start of his 2½-week major-league career.

"I don't think we have qualms about doing anything," manager Joe Maddon said.

The Rays didn't announce the decision until nearly 9 p.m. Thursday, bypassing 11-game winner Wade Davis, who will go to the bullpen, and Jeff Niemann, who has been pulled early from his past two starts.

"We believe Matt can handle the moment,'' Maddon said via text message. "And we like the idea of Davis' stuff in our pen.''

Veteran right-handed ace James Shields will start Game 2 Saturday on full rest after his Monday win. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and left-hander David Price are presumably lined up for Games 3 and 4. Shields or Moore could come back for a Game 5 on full rest.

Asked during the afternoon media availability about the possibility of starting the playoff opener, Moore said he welcomed it.

"The opportunity speaks for itself just given what's going on around us," Moore said. "I would try to take it like any other start, that's the only way I know how to. If that does happen, then great, I'm going to do my best to set us up for an early lead in the series."

Moore, who made his first start at Yankee Stadium, was also confident he would not be overwhelmed by the stage or the stakes.

"I don't know how I'd feel initially, but I'm going to get to that point where I do feel comfortable because any other way is not the way I get the best stuff out of my body."

Moore, who features a fastball routinely clocked in the upper 90 mph range, curveball and changeup, has made an impressive rise after spending last season with Class A Charlotte.

He starred at both Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, going a combined 12-3, 1.92 with 210 strikeouts in 155 innings. In two relief outings (at Baltimore and Boston) and his one start, he is 1-0, 2.89 with 15 strikeouts in 91/3 innings.

The Rays could see a strategic benefit in starting Moore given the late afternoon start time to take advantage of the shadows. Or they see it as a low-risk, high-reward gamble given how much they tend to struggle against Texas starter C.J. Wilson who, including last year's playoffs, is 5-0, 1.94 against them.

PRICE CHECK: Price said his struggles with fastball command were a main reason for his disappointing outing Wednesday, when he allowed six runs in just four innings. But his emotions went through a 180-degree turn after the Rays' improbable comeback victory.

"I went from the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs," Price said. "It's a team game, it hasn't just happened to me, it's happened to a lot of guys, too. It's part of it, it just so happened to come in Game 162 when we needed to win. Obviously I wish I could have pitched better but I didn't, but my teammates picked me up, which was huge."

Tampa Bay Rays pick rookie Matt Moore to start Game 1 of AL Division Series 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 11:21am]
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