No Evan Longoria? No problem, kind of. Playing their first full game of the 2012 season without their franchise player, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Seattle Mariners 3-1. The team registered just three hits, but relied on pitching, defense, and just enough offense – the DNA of the team as manager Joe Maddon would say – to get by with a victory.
Replacing Longoria in the third spot of the order, Matt Joyce provided the Rays with two of their three hits. Joyce laced an RBI triple in the first to put the Rays on the board before belting his sixth home run of the season – a solo shot in the third inning. Luke Scott pitched in with an RBI sacrifice fly while Desmond Jennings provided the only other hit. Although they had just three hits, the offense worked their way on base with four walks including two by Carlos Pena and one by Ben Zobrist, his 20th of the season.
Matt Moore, along with a trio of relievers, made sure the three runs were enough, holding Seattle to one run despite allowing nine hits and a walk. The Rays struck out 12 Mariners including seven by Moore. The young lefty struggled with his pitch count – tossing 101 pitches in five innings – however, showed good control despite struggling with command at times.
Working mainly off his fastball, Moore was around the strike zone (control), but often missed his spots (command). Of his 101 pitches, 66 were strikes (65%) including 14 swings and misses. Meanwhile, the Mariners fouled off 22 pitches; 14 of them on fastballs. Moore averaged 95 MPH on the heater, but left several elevated in the zone. An overwhelming majority of fouls (15) came with two strikes. It goes without saying, but if Moore is going to work deeper in games, he is going to need to finish off hitters without the wasted pitches. “He was a little bit around the zone with his fastball in general” said Maddon. “[The Mariners] had a lot of foul balls with two strikes and they really bumped up his pitch count.”
Against Moore, the Mariners worked eight plate appearances with six or more pitches. In five of those, the 22-year-old held a 1-2 advantage including a 13-pitch strikeout of Casper Wells in the second inning. After falling behind in the count, Wells fouled off seven pitches before whiffing on a 96 MPH fastball. “I have to do a better job of getting the ball in the zone more often and getting some earlier swings” Moore said. “If they put it in play, they put it in play, at least it’s not 8 or 9 pitches down the road.”
Moore showed a slightly better killer instinct in his final inning of work, finishing a pair of strikeouts with his breaking ball. Overall, he threw 18 hooks with 13 of them strikes. He added 13 changeups, nine good for a strike. After the game, Maddon said “I think when he gets better command, specifically of where he wants to throw the fastball, you are going to see that pitch count come down. He may get some quicker outs and getting contact earlier in the count would be kind of a nice thing.”
Burke Badenhop worked two scoreless innings before handing the baton to the high-leverage duo of Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney. After watching Peralta navigate through an easy eighth inning, Rodney struck out the side in the ninth en route to his eighth save in as many chances with the Rays. Cloning the arm action on his fastball and changeup, Rodney induced five whiffs on six swings including a perfect three-for-three on his changeup. Though the pitches look similar out of the hand, Rodney was able to separate the pair with a velocity gap of 14 MPH. Good process. Good results. Good night.
Going forward, the Rays will need to generate more than three hits, and get more than five innings from their starter, to win on a consistent basis in Longoria’s absence. That said, any win without him is a good win, and every day crossed off the calendar moves them closer to his return.