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Matt Moore looking like Rays' best

ST. PETERSBURG

He is arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the moment, and without argument, the best pitcher on the Rays' staff.

This lefty throws electric fastballs. He buckles knees with his breaking pitches and practically gives batters vertigo with his changeup.

This is no surprise, really. We've known all along this guy had top-of-the-rotation stuff with an ace mentality. Plus, we've seen him throw plenty of big games in his brief Rays career.

But hold on just a second. This ace of the staff is not who you think it is. It's definitely not who you thought it was going to be coming into this season.

In other words, it's not David Price

The defending Cy Young Award winner is still trying to locate his fastball and second victory.

Right now, Matt Moore is the Rays' best pitcher, and if they handed out Cy Youngs after six weeks, Moore might be your man.

"He's good, man," catcher Jose Molina said. "He's impressive."

How good? The Rays' ace — see, it's already catching on — Tuesday became the first pitcher in the majors this season, and the first in Rays history, to start 7-0. How impressive is that? Those seven victories are the most in the American League and tied for most in the majors.

Moore shook off a rocky start and turned in a six-inning, three-hit performance in the Rays' 5-3 victory over the Red Sox.

Moore hit the first batter of the game. A batter later, he got a bad break when Dustin Pedroia doubled off third base. Then David Ortiz crushed a misplaced fastball into the rightfield seats.

Moore was down 3-0 and had given up more runs than he had in six of his previous seven starts.

And the game was only four batters old.

"I saw him as being fine," manager Joe Maddon said. "He didn't hurry up. He didn't give you that bad body language, that bad facial expression. He hung in there.

"As a group of young starting pitchers, I would love for our guys to understand that once you give up a run, that's all you're going to get. That's the kind of mentality a starting pitcher needs to have for a team to really be successful."

Instead of wilting and giving in to the thought it just wasn't his night, Moore did what aces do. He retired the next 12 in a row and gave up only one more hit before departing after six innings, 100 pitches and eight strikeouts.

"You tip your hat to a guy that settles in and puts up a number of zeroes consecutively," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

Moore said he simply did what a pitcher is supposed to do.

"Just keep pitching," he said. "It wasn't as heartbreaking as you would think because of how well we've been swinging the bats."

The Rays put up a five-spot in the fourth to get Moore the win.

What's odd is how well Moore is pitching despite typically being a slow starter.

Take last year. Moore started the season 1-5 with a 4.76 ERA over April and May. Over his previous six pro seasons, he had a 4.52 ERA in the first two months of the season, compared with a 2.30 ERA from June to October.

Fears of another slow start this season were heightened because of an awful spring, which led Maddon to say, "This is a classic example of not judging a player by his spring training performance."

Since June, just about a full season ago, Moore is 17-6 with an ERA just above 3.00 and has 168 strikeouts in 28 starts.

Now the best part: He's 23.

That's the thing. Because we heard about him before he even arrived in Tampa Bay, because he made a splash in the 2011 playoffs with a brilliant performance against the Rangers, because he has done so much in such a short period, we forget just how young and inexperienced Moore is.

This is just his second full season. Maddon still talks as if Moore is two years away from being an accomplished pitcher. Even Moore says he still has to learn to get out of his own way and figure out how to be a more efficient thrower.

But here we are early in 2013 and Moore already is putting up ace-like numbers.

"Coming out of camp, you would not think he would be the guy who would be 7-0," Maddon said.

Yet, Moore is 7-0. Why?

"Because he is good," Maddon said.

Good like an ace.

Matt Moore looking like Rays' best 05/14/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 10:46am]
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