ST. PETERSBURG — Speaking from Durham, N.C., on Tuesday, LHP Matt Moore was surprised to hear he has been such a popular topic of conversation around the Trop.
The Rays' elite prospect acknowledged the whirlwind his past two months have been, but he said he is focused solely on pitching the Bulls to the Triple-A championship, starting with tonight's playoff opener against Columbus (Indians), and not at all on a potential promotion to the major leagues.
"If it happens, great," said Moore, 22. "If not, there will be more opportunities. Fortunately I feel like I'm young enough and healthy enough that I should be around for a while."
The Rays have not said, but a callup seems unlikely unless they get back in the race and he could be used out of the bullpen as David Price was in 2008.
Moore has dazzled all season, going 8-3, 2.20 in 18 starts at Double-A Montgomery and then, after appearances in the All-Star Futures and Southern League All-Star games, 4-0, 1.37 in nine starts after his late-July promotion to Durham. Combined, he is 12-3, 1.92 with a .184 opponents average and 201 strikeouts in 155 innings.
"Just in the last two months everything sped up, but it felt like it was the right time, and not too fast," Moore said. "I felt like I was ready to go to Durham."
Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo was happy to have him, calling him "a special kid" and saying Moore and Atlanta's Julio Teheran are the two best pitchers in the minors.
Montoyo said the rotation just worked out to start Moore in tonight's opener of the best-of-five series, followed by RHP Chris Archer, LHP Alex Torres and RHP Matt Torra.
Montoyo said even after a fifth straight South Division championship, "I don't take anything for granted because I know how hard it is, especially with all the (player) movement we have."
Class A Bowling Green opens best-of-three Midwest League play tonight at Fort Wayne (Padres) with RHP George Jensen on the mound.
PITCHING IN: Thursday's off day presents an option, but the Rays plan to stay in rotation, meaning the starters for the Red Sox series will be RHPs Wade Davis (vs. John Lackey), Jeremy Hellickson (vs. Kyle Weiland) and James Shields (vs. Jon Lester). The Rays could have skipped Davis and started Hellickson, Shields and Jeff Niemann.
STRIKING OUT: With five strikeouts today, Price will reach 200 and make him and RHP James Shields the fourth AL duo to do so in the past 20 years, joining Toronto's A.J. Burnett and Roy Halladay, 2008; Boston's Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, 2004; and New York's Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens, 2001.
RESTING UP: Even though the Rays are pretty much in "must-win" mode, Maddon is also determined to get players rest so as to not "grind them into the ground" and "have no chance to play well at the end of the month."
That's why CF B.J. Upton didn't play Sunday and 3B Evan Longoria was the DH Tuesday. It was not, however, the primary reason Johnny Damon was out of the lineup and will be again tonight even though his bruised right leg was better; that's because of Texas' tough lefties.
Longoria isn't a fan of DH-ing, as his .143 average in six previous games showed. But he said he has come to understand the benefit of getting a day off his feet — "especially as rough as the turf is at home" — while keeping his bat in the lineup.
MISCELLANY: C Jose Lobaton "tweaked" his left knee, the one that sidelined him for six weeks earlier this season, and won't play today, but the Rays don't think it's serious. … The Sept. 17 game in Boston has been picked up by Fox and moved to a 4:10 start. … The Yankees have not set a date for the doubleheader in New York, either Sept. 20 or 21.