Moore opens eyes, sets stage for next season

Moore opens eyes, sets stage for next season

ST. PETERSBURG -- A palpable buzz spread through Tropicana Field in the fifth inning of the Rays' 4-3 loss to the Rangers in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday.

Matt Moore was entering the game.

He is the Rays' 22-year-old left-hander, who holds a warm spot in the hearts of the team's fans and management as the newest, shiniest, and fastest toy. Now for the question the Rays are left to ponder during the offseason: What do they do with him next season?

"It's a tough thing to answer right now," said Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations for the Rays. "Obviously, when we sat here at Spring Training and mapped out what an ideal year for him would be, he met it, and even exceeded it."

Already the Rays have a stellar group of starters in James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. Also waiting in the wings are Alex Cobb and Alex Torres. Most Major League clubs should have such problems.

Moore shot through the Rays' farm system, finishing out his Minor League season with a 12-3 record with a 1.92 ERA in a combined 27 starts for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Included in those starts was a no-hitter for Montgomery on June 16, when he struck out 11 and walked two, needing just 106 pitches to close the deal.

He made his Major League debut Sept. 14 at Baltimore in relief of Davis, and he surrendered a home run to Matt Wieters in his 1 1/3 innings. Then he threw three innings in relief of Niemann on Sept. 10 at Boston, when he entered the game in the sixth and allowed one run on two hits. The two relief appearances paled in comparison to his first Major League start on Sept. 22 at Yankee Stadium, when he struck out 11 in five innings en route to his first Major League win.

After the Rays made a charge to win a playoff spot on the final day of the season, manager Joe Maddon wheeled out Moore to start against the Rangers in the first game of the ALDS, and Moore came away the winner in a 9-0 Rays win. He allowed two hits, walking two and striking out six. Tuesday, he pitched two scoreless innings of relief before getting touched by Adrian Beltre for the Texas third baseman's third home run of the game.

"I guess when talking personally, I'm fairly happy with the way everything went [in 2011]," Moore said. "It's just a little hard to appreciate it right now because it's done."

Despite Tuesday's performance, Moore managed to open the eyes of Texas manager Ron Washington.

"He is a tremendous athlete," Washington said. "He has a bright future, and I wish him all the health moving forward. But, once again, Tampa just keeps stacking pitching. This kid had a tremendous arm, a lot of life in it."

Unless somebody knocks off the Rays' socks with a blockbuster trade, chances are they will hold on to all of their pitching until the end, or near the end, of Spring Training in 2012, if they trade any of their pitching at all. That way they can make sure they don't have any injuries before trading any of their prized arms. At that point, in theory, they would be able to field offers from teams that need starting-pitching help, which is an annual occurrence prior to the start of the season.

If nobody gets traded, it'll be "Game on" for who will claim the top five spots in next year's rotation, with Moore leading the way.

"I think I'm going to start my workouts in a couple of hours to make sure I can still be in this rotation," Price said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.