The Tampa Bay Rays put a wrap on their second-best April in team history Monday. One of the few Rays who hasn't kept pace with the team as a whole, at least not statistically, is LHP Matt Moore.
Though manager Joe Maddon says Moore has pitched better than his record indicates, the rookie will go into his first May start tonight with an 0-1 record and a 4.68 ERA in five starts.
Maddon isn't alone, though, in thinking Moore's record is not indicative of his performance. After allowing five hits, two earned runs and striking out six in 5 2/3 innings in his last start, Moore believes he has found his groove.
"It was nice to have a curveball for once,'' Moore said of his last outing, which came against the Angels. "I knew I was going to be able to throw it in the zone and bounce it if I wanted to and my fastball, I was able to command it better and get ahead of guys.''
Moore believes his resurgence actually began one start earlier, when he made a minor technical adjustment with his plant foot. Moore said the alteration is virtually undetectable but he feels a big difference.
"It just gives me a little more time for everything to catch up and the timing feels a lot better,'' said Moore, who has allowed 25 hits, walked 14 and struck out 16 in 25 innings.
"The last couple outings he's gotten better each time out,'' Maddon said. "In fact, I think it's encouraging that we're 14-8 (prior to Monday's game) and he doesn't have a win yet because I think he's been throwing the ball pretty good.''
With seven saves in seven chances, RHP Fernando Rodney is closing out games at a rate that may soon result in kids throughout the Bay area wearing their hats askew atop their head.
An emergency replacement in the closer's role, Rodney went into Monday's game tied for the lead league in saves and games finished (11), and one-time rival Luke Scott isn't surprised.
"I faced Fernando for years, and you're looking at a guy that runs it up there at 95-100 (mph) and has that Bugs Bunny change-up,'' said Scott, a former Orioles outfielder who signed with the Rays during the offseason.
"He made at-bats really uncomfortable, because it's like, if I do get the 97- or 98-(mph fastball), what am I going to do with it? And if he throws that change-up, it's like (tips his hat) 'good job.' ''
Maddon says Rodney's consistency pounding the strike zone with his fastball is one of the big reasons for his success, which could spark a new fashion trend in his own clubhouse.
"I actually want to start wearing my hat more crooked or caddy-wampus as I like to call it,'' Maddon said. "I want to go there actually. I want to be more like Fernando than the other way around.''
New kid on the block
The Rays added an experienced left-handed bat and what they hope will be some depth in the outfield and at DH when they officially signed 37-year-old Hideki Matsui to a minor-league contract.
Matsui, who first came to the major leagues as a member of the Yankees in 2003, has twice been an AL All-Star and was named the Most Valuable Player in the 2009 World Series.
He is expected to report to Tampa Bay's extended spring training program in Port Charlotte on Wednesday, but the Rays have plans for him at the big-league level.
"We'll track it and see how things play out,'' Maddon said. "It's absolutely wonderful to have this guy in our organization. I would like to think that he's going to be able to both DH and play some outfield for us.''
Have a seat
OF Desmond Jennings was not in the starting lineup Monday for the first time this season. Maddon said the decision to sit Jennings was something he had in mind since Saturday.
"I just thought it was time,'' Maddon said. "I knew we were going to be getting in late (Sunday following the road trip to Texas) and he's been going after it pretty hard, playing both center and left and diving all over the place.''