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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Rays' Moore coping well with reality

— Alex Cobb threw in the Rays bullpen before Tuesday night's game against Baltimore. He said he felt good. He thinks he's close. Jeremy Hellickson said he felt some soreness in his latest bullpen session. Rays manager Joe Maddon said sometimes soreness is good, it's about building back strength.

Then there's Matt Moore.

Moore stood at his locker Tuesday wearing a menacing metal brace on his left elbow, the one he can't use much at the moment, hardly at all, even to bring food all the way to his mouth or to scratch his nose. But Moore's mind is in a good place. He has wrapped it around the reality:

A year.

“I think of it as a year, immediately just one year — boom,” Moore said.

A year. Or more.

That's the long road ahead after Moore's season ended in early April in Kansas City. One second, he was a 24-year-old coming off a 17-4 All-Star season, so much to build on. The next second, he felt something.

“It wasn't a pop,” Moore said. “It was just a biting feeling.”

He'll be 25 when he next pitches in a major-league game. Or maybe even 26.

Moore spoke Tuesday for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery to replace his elbow ligament. The procedure is named after Tommy John, the first man on that particular moon. It was performed by noted orthopedist James Andrews, at once the most feared and comforting name in pitching. Moore was supposed to have his surgical stitches out Tuesday or today.

“I think it's called an undisrupted knot,” he said. “They don't tie off. They just go back and forth, back and forth.”

He can't pick up a baseball and throw it for four months — if he's lucky. Probably more like five months.

Moore's spirits are good right now. There's no crying in baseball, at least from him. Nobody died here.

“I wasn't that emotional,” Moore said. “I think if it was something more life and death, I'd probably get to that place. I don't think my emotions could go that far unless it was career ending, or my health was at risk, kind of in limbo.”

It's a different kind of limbo, though, waiting for that month and day he can throw. He is focusing on what he needs to do on a daily basis, baby step after baby step.

“Now that the surgery is done, I feel done, where before the surgery was done I felt like I had something to offer,” Moore said. “But this is a new chapter for me to focus on, to go in each day and focus on that instead of maybe getting a guy out.”

Tommy John surgery isn't a career-ender. Why, it happens so often that … it happens too often. History and Moore's age are on his side. Two of his teammates, Grant Balfour and Jake McGee, made it back from Tommy John and then some. Moore's older brother, Bobby, underwent the procedure and came back to pitch for the University of New Mexico.

It's still a year. Or more.

And there are all those games where Moore can't begin to help this team …

“It's a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “You prepare for a season.”

“He's got it in pretty good order right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I'm sure it's going to get more difficult the longer you sit out, as the season gets deeper. As soon as we get to that playoff moment, it's going to get even more difficult. That's where the support comes from us. … He's going to have his down days, there's no doubt. But you've got to keep reminding him that when he comes back, he's going to be better than ever and you're going to be 25, so you've got a nice, long career ahead of you.”

“I'm sure it'll be at a snail's pace for a pretty long time,” Moore said.

He does physical therapy each day, two hours, nothing major at the moment, simple shoulder exercises, some wrist stuff, no cardio work yet.

He smiled.

“Sometimes I think 'bored' isn't even close to the word to describe it.”

He just wants to play catch. That's months away.

“To be honest, it can be a positive thing if I allow it to be,” Moore said. “I don't know if I expect to be better. I do expect to do the right thing in my rehab process and to focus every day. Those are expectations I know I can handle.”

There is time for all that.

A year. Or more.

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