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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Tampa Bay Rays

Moore, Zobrist lead Rays past Indians

ST. PETERSBURG - Matt Moore floundered during spring training under the Florida sun, trying to iron out the kinks in a fastball that never seemed right and a rhythm that was always a smidge off.

Then Moore arrived at Tropicana Field a week ago for the final exhibition game of the spring, and look out. His delivery was in synch, his fastball had pop, and suddenly, every pitch the left-hander threw was sharp.

Must be the roof, right?

Moore carried that over to Friday’s start against the Cleveland Indians, when he allowed two hits, struck out eight and led the Rays to a 4-0 victory in front of 16,019 fans at the Trop.

"His stuff was what we’re all used to," left fielder Sam Fuld said.

Moore and relievers Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes and Joel Peralta combined to retire the final 17 Indians as the Rays evened their record at 2-2.

"It was pretty boring out in the outfield, and that’s a good thing," right fielder Ben Zobrist said.

Zobrist continued his hot start to the season with a pair of doubles and three RBIs.

"It’s nice to get some hits early and help the team win," Zobrist said. "That’s the point of being a hitter, especially in the middle of the lineup.

"You want to help score some runs, and I’ve had some opportunities with guys on base. When you get those opportunities it’s nice to make good on some of them."

Fuld was on base twice for Zobrist, scoring from first base each time as Zobrist doubled to right field.

"After he scored for the second time he said, ‘Man, you’re really testing me out with my legs.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re doing a great job of scoring for me,’" Zobrist said. "It’s great having a guy with his speed on ahead of you.

"You hit a double, you’re pretty confident he’s going to score."

The four runs were more than enough — Moore and Co. made sure of that.

Moore is notorious for his slow starts to a season. His ERA through April and May during his first six pro seasons is 4.52. It drops to 2.30 from June through the end of the year.

Moore said getting off to a better start was one of his goals this spring.

It didn’t appear that would happen during his four starts during the Grapefruit League season. But then came the Tigers at the Trop, and Moore found what he was looking for, mainly the feel for this fastball.

"I would say so," he said. "Just by the results of that outing, it seemed like something picked up there.

"For me it was my tempo and that cleaned up everything, helped me find the release point for my fastball, and the other pitches fed off that."

Rays manager Joe Maddon said before the game if Moore can throw his fastball for strikes, his other pitches would follow and he will have the season everyone envisions from the second-year left-hander.

"It’s simple for me: he throws his fastball for strikes, they’ll chase his other pitches," Maddon said.

That’s what happened Friday.

"Usually, when I’m ahead that really opens up options and I can start expanding the zone a little bit," Moore said. "That first pitch was huge, and I could pop some two-seamers in there."

Moore was in trouble twice during the game, and he pitched out of both jams.

Indians leadoff hitter Michael Bourn reached on an infield single to start the game and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and a long fly ball to center field that Desmond Jennings caught as he crashed into the fence.

But Moore ended the inning by getting a fly ball to left field.

The Indians had runners on second and third with one out in the third after a leadoff walk and a double by Bourn.

But Moore stopped the threat with a grounder to third and a strikeout.

Moore retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced. He watched the bullpen finish off the Indians and began thinking of his next start, which is Wednesday against the Rangers in Texas, with the confidence gained from Friday’s start.

"It definitely feels nice to have this one come out like it did," Moore said.
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