ST. PETERSBURG -- Back in January, former Ray James Shields offered a prediction about Matt Moore. The right-hander had been reminiscing about his time with the team when Moore's name entered the conversation.
"Dude's going to have a great season," Shields said.
Obviously, Shields was spot on. Moore will carry a 6-0 record into his eighth start of the season, on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field against the Red Sox. Although the record is not totally immaculate -- he does have a no-decision -- the Rays are 7-0 in games he started.
Shields laughed when recently reminded about his prediction. For starters, he explained, he hadn't exactly gone out on a limb. After all, Moore possesses three quality pitches, he throws 97 mph from the left side, he works hard and he's mentally tough.
"I knew he was going to do it," Shields said. "I watched the way he grinded it out last year, even when he struggled. I remembered when I went through a bad stretch in 2010, I continued to grind it out. I would approach every single game the same way. He reminded me of that. He was doing that as well. Besides that, he's a good kid. He's definitely got a lot to learn, but he's well on his way."
Moore made his first Major League start on Sept. 22, 2011, against the Yankees, and shut them down, allowing no runs and striking out 11 in five innings in a 15-8 win. Manager Joe Maddon handed the ball to the youngster for the first game of the American League Division Series, against the Rangers, and the magic continued: He dominated with seven scoreless innings in Arlington en route to a 9-0 win.
"Easy gas" quickly became one of the superlatives issued by those struggling to explain what they were seeing from a kid who shaved once or twice a week and delivered 97-mph fastballs with relative ease. All of it looked so easy.
"I felt great, my pitches were all there," Moore said. "Things were pretty clean all season."
By the time Moore arrived in Port Charlotte, Fla., the following spring, he had a long-term deal with the Rays and a spot in their rotation, and was projected to be a favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Alas, baseball is a difficult game, and the Majors have a way of humbling. Moore stumbled out of the gate to a 1-4 record in his first 10 starts in 2012 before finishing at 11-11, with a 3.81 ERA.
Had Moore been prematurely anointed the "Next Great Thing"?
Any player would have had a difficult time living up to those expectations. Read between the lines, and you'll notice some strong results from Moore's 2012 season, such as the 31 starts, the 175 strikeouts -- the most for an AL rookie since Mark Langston's 204 in 1984 -- and the 9-3 stretch he put together from June through August.
"I don't think there's a guy in here that at some point in his life didn't face a rough patch," said Moore when asked how he's handled his ups and downs. "I think I have to keep continuing to strive for something more and not get content or OK with the fact my changeup wasn't good. [It's] more so staying with the process of what your routine is, what your thought processes are."
Maddon has been impressed with Moore's makeup since he first joined the team.
"He's got a nice way about him," Maddon said. "He handles different moments really well. Even when he was going poorly last year, I don't remember seeing him really getting totally dejected or despondent. And when he's going well, you don't see this air about him that changes, either. I mean, he's pretty much the same cat, good or bad, and I love that. The fact that he's 23 and can be that way really speaks to future success."
Moore attributes much of his development to the foundation Tampa Bay gave him after signing him out of Moriarty (N.M.) High School in 2007. Despite having obvious natural talents, he progressed station-to-station through the system. Moore even repeated at Class A Princeton, where he spent the 2007 and '08 seasons.
"What the Rays do with high school pitchers is great," Moore said. "They never put me into a situation where I wasn't just going to take off. I got drafted when I was 17. I knew how to throw the ball in the middle of the plate, I knew how to make my curveball snap off, but I didn't know how to locate anything, and I didn't have a changeup.
"With me, it was, 'Start from the bottom with this guy. We're going to send him in to see [pitching coach] Marty DeMerritt to teach him something about how to work and be in this game and be professional.' The progression for me was right on. I don't think there was a time when I needed to be somewhere and I wasn't."
Now the Rays are reaping the benefits of their patient approach, as Moore appears headed for a great run. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price believes Moore is right where he needs to be.
"It's tough whenever you come out and have that much success," Price said. "Then guys get a little bit of video on you, and it kind of changes things. And he's changing things right now. And that's what you have to do, because all of these hitters on all of these teams, they're going to adapt to what you do.
"So you have to get off the straight path and kind of figure out ways to make these teams kind of research what you're doing again. Make sure you're continually changing things up. You don't use the same pitch sequences. You learn to pitch to different guys. That's what he's doing right now, and he's doing extremely well."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less