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Tampa Bay Rays rookie Matt Moore sees steady improvement

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon said he was a little concerned about LHP Matt Moore during his 27-pitch first inning Thursday.

Moore had given up a leadoff double, allowed a stolen base and balked in a run. His fastball was around 93 mph, and he was not locating it well.

"It didn't start out well," Maddon said, "but he settled in."

Moore ended up lasting six innings, giving up just one run and two hits. He said he got a better feel and command of his pitches as the game wore on, retiring 13 straight batters over a stretch.

It was sort of a microcosm of Moore's rookie season, finding his way after a rough 1-5 start to go 8-5 with a 3.01 ERA in his past 15 outings.

"I'm extremely pleased with where I've come from in the beginning of the season, when I was not really putting together too many quality starts," he said. "To now, where I'm getting a little more hungry for the eighth and ninth inning every night out, trying to see what they're like. It's getting closer."

FOR SHORT: Maddon's typically unpredictable lineup had another twist, with Ben Zobrist making his first start at shortstop since 2009.

Maddon said because Moore, a flyball pitcher, was on the mound, he tried the "experiment" because he wanted to get infielders Jeff Keppinger and Ryan Roberts both in the game at the same time, giving the Rays "our best offensive look right there, based on the personnel active right now."

Zobrist said he was asked beforehand about the move, and he was fine with it, having come up as a shortstop. He was the team's opening day starter there in 2007. "It's just like riding a bike," he quipped.

Zobrist felt good and had to make just a couple of plays Thursday. Maddon said Zobrist could start there again, when the right pitcher is on the mound. With Zobrist able to play short, the team might feel more comfortable next week if it sent INF Sean Rodriguez down to make room for DH Luke Scott (oblique strain), who is expected to come off the disabled list.

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann admitted he was nervous before Wednesday's rehab start with Class A Charlotte, his first game since breaking the fibula in his right leg in May.

But Niemann settled down and was encouraged with how he felt in throwing 2⅔ innings (41 pitches), allowing just one run. He said he never had to cover first base, but his leg issue didn't cross his mind.

"I just really wanted to reach my pitch count and throw strikes, throw quality strikes, and throw all the pitches," he said. "And I did that."

Niemann is scheduled to throw the second of four expected rehab starts early next week, targeting a late-August return.

GREAT SCOTT: Scott will begin a rehab assignment tonight with Class A Charlotte, and Maddon acknowledged the stint "shouldn't be that long." Scott said he also will play Saturday, then be re-evaluated. It's possible Scott could rejoin the Rays in Seattle early next week. The key will be when he's able to consistently time the fastball.

MINOR MATTERS: INF Brooks Conrad accepted his assignment to Triple-A Durham, and INF Matt Mangini was released. Durham 1B Henry Wrigley, 26, was named Topps International League player of the month for July, as well as Rays minor-league player of the month, after hitting .370 with three homers and 18 RBIs. RHP Alex Colome was named Rays minor-league pitcher of the month after going 5-1 with a 2.23 ERA in six starts for Double-A Montgomery.

MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson said 40-50 family members and friends will make the three-hour drive from Iowa to watch his start tonight in Minneapolis. … Tonight's game will be on 970-AM due to the Bucs' preseason opener.

Tampa Bay Rays rookie Matt Moore sees steady improvement 08/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2012 9:33pm]

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