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Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore at loss to explain recent struggles

ST. PETERSBURG — Last September, rookie LHP Matt Moore made his stellar splash into the big leagues.

This time around, Moore has been going through a September slump, entering tonight's outing against the Jays having lost four straight starts, with a 6.05 ERA during that stretch.

And one of the hardest parts for Moore is there's no easy explanation.

"Healthwise, I don't have any complaints; from my legs to my arms to my head, I feel fine," Moore, 22, said. "And sometimes where a little bit of the heartache and frustration sets in is there's no excuses there. Sometimes, if you're struggling, it's because maybe your (velocity) is not there or your elbow is tweaked a little bit."

Moore's problem his most recent start in New York was one admittedly "atrocious" inning, when he allowed five runs in the third inning. He has walked seven in his past two starts and has not lasted more than four innings in each.

"The command has gotten away from him," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's had some nice moments, but there hasn't been this lengthy, typically good performance. The last time, he's going really well and then, all of a sudden, it just went away on him."

PRIME TIME: CF B.J. Upton said he didn't plan or practice his Deion Sanders-like dance to end his walkoff home run trot Thursday night against the Red Sox. "It just kind of happened."

"It was all right, it could have been polished up a little bit," Upton said. "He did it a lot of times so he's probably got it mastered, and I don't. I didn't take my steps like I wanted to. I had some guys in the way."

But Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback nicknamed "Prime Time" for his flair and touchdown celebrations, gave Upton's effort rave reviews. Sanders tweeted at Upton on Friday "much, much love," and that he'd put Upton on his top 10 plays of the week Sunday on NFL Network.

"That was cool," Upton said.

Upton said he grew up watching Sanders, and the Florida State fan wears No. 2, like Sanders did as a Seminole.

HIS VOGT: Lost in Thursday's dramatic, six-run ninth-inning rally was rookie C Stephen Vogt working a one-out, pinch-hit walk to load the bases.

"Big at-bat," Maddon said. "Huge at-bat."

Vogt, who is 0-for-19 in his career and admittedly not a "big walk guy," didn't press after a 3-and-0 count turned to 3-and-2. "I never got my pitch," he said.

Though Vogt said he has been in those types of situations a lot of times in the minors, he appreciated the confidence Maddon showed in pinch-hitting him in a key spot for the second time in as many weeks. He also had a pinch-hit walk in the ninth at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 15.

"When you trust somebody, you just trust them," Maddon said. "I know he has no hits, but I know what he's done in the minor leagues. … I don't know if he's going to get a hit or not, but I know he's going to work a good at-bat, I know he's not going to get flustered, I know he's not going to be taken by the moment. For all of those reasons, I felt good about him."

MILESTONE WATCH: With RHP James Shields strikeout of the Jays' J.P. Arencibia in the second inning, the Rays set an AL record for most strikeouts in a season, passing the 2001 Yankees (1,266). The Rays finished with 1,275. Shields finished with nine Friday for a season total of 202, making him the first Ray to have 200 strikeouts in consecutive seasons.

MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Jeff Niemann played catch for the first time since suffering rotator cuff inflammation in a Sept. 1 start. He made 35 throws from 60 feet, saying all went well. It seems unlikely he will return by the regular season's end, but he said he hopes to "cram" it in and be back.

Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore at loss to explain recent struggles 09/21/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 11:25pm]
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