LHP Matt Moore said he enjoys seeing the players who were recently called up from Triple-A Durham join the team. The new guys bring some energy to the clubhouse.
It was less than a year ago when Moore was one of those new faces in the Rays clubhouse. Called up on Sept. 12 of last season, he played a key role as the Rays chased down the Red Sox. He struck out 11 in five innings during his lone regular season start at Yankee Stadium.
Moore will meet the Yankees again in a key September game when he faces them tonight at Tropicana Field in the finale of this three-game series.
What's the difference between tonight's start and the one last September?
"The paths of the two Septembers have been different," Moore said. "There's been a few more charter plane rides and better food, so I think my body feels better than it did around this time last year."
In addition to those perks, Moore is a much better pitcher, as one would expect from a rookie making his first big-league start to one who is making his 27th start of the season. Heck, Moore is a better pitcher now than he was during the first two months of the season.
His fastball is much improved, which makes his curveball and change-up better pitches. He works deeper into games and he pitches with a lot more confidence.
"There were a lot of expectations attached (at the start of the year), and with that he was not pitching up to what we thought he would pitch or what he'd look like as a starting pitcher with us," manager Joe Maddon said. "But then he kept getting better and better."
Moore is 9-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 16 starts since June 1. He has thrown 156 innings this season. Moore worked 1641/3 innings last year, when he pitched at Double-A Montgomery, Durham and the big club. He should pass that total after his next two starts.
Maddon said there are no plans to limit Moore's innings, and Moore said the work load is not a problem.
"There's still a ways to go, still some work to be done," Moore said. "I might feel a little different in a month. Right now I'm pretty happy and satisfied where I'm at."
Maddon and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman met for a long time Tuesday in Maddon's office as they try to finalize the rotation for the final 26 games of the regular season.
With RHP Jeff Niemann (inflamed rotator cuff) likely finished for the season, the Rays are formulating Plan B to reduce the innings for RHP Alex Cobb, who had pitched 1062/3 innings entering Tuesday's start.
Cobb worked 120 last season between Durham and the Rays before having surgery in August to clear a blockage near his first right rib. Niemann was expected to be used as a sixth start to help reduce the workload on Cobb and Moore.
Plan B could be RHP Chris Archer, who made a pair of starts in June when RHP Jeremy Hellickson was on the disabled list with right shoulder fatigue.
"Try to line things up as it winds down," Maddon said.
The first 10,000 fans through the doors tonight will receive a Carlos Peña Home Run figurine, which comes complete with Peña tapping his helmet as he rounds the bases.
Peña will not reveal why he does that.
"It's a sign of good things," he said.
While suffering through the worst offensive season of his career, Peña believes the giveaway is a sign of good times to come.
"Perfect timing," he said. "This is when I want to touch my head the most."
Rookie League Princeton manager Michael Johns joined the Rays coaching staff this month. Durham manager Charlie Montoyo will also join the big league staff. … The Rays entered Tuesday's game with a .279 batting average over their previous 25 games. That's the sixth-highest average in the majors during that span.