Rays-Angels Preview

The Associated PressSeptember 3, 2013

The Tampa Bay Rays' recent poor stretch has come at a rather inopportune time as they chase down a playoff spot.

They're hoping the return of one of their top pitchers can help turn things around.

Matt Moore takes the mound for the first time in over a month on Tuesday night when the Rays visit the Los Angeles Angels.

Tampa Bay (75-61) has lost eight of nine games after an 11-2 loss to the Angels in Monday's series opener that also reduced its lead over Baltimore for the second AL wild-card spot to two games. Los Angeles also took two of three in Tampa Bay last week.

The Rays have managed just 19 runs over their last nine games while batting .177 with runners in scoring position.

Evan Longoria is hitting .114 (4 for 35) over that stretch with 10 strikeouts while stranding 15 runners.

"It's frustrating. We're in a bad stretch and we've got to turn it around," Ben Zobrist said. "These things happen during the season at times, so you just have to fight through it and stay positive."

They'll hope to regroup behind Moore (14-3, 3.41 ERA), who starts for the first time since July 28 after the Rays put him on the disabled list as a precaution due to elbow soreness. Despite missing more than a month, the All-Star left-hander still leads the team in wins.

"I'm very eager to get back out there," he told the team's official website. "I think a month-plus is a lot longer than I initially thought it was going to be. So I'm just excited to get back out there and give us a shot to win the game."

Prior to leaving his last start against the New York Yankees after only five innings on July 28, Moore had racked up victories in six straight starts while limiting opponents to seven runs in 42 innings.

Moore was solid in three starts versus the Angels last season, going 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA. Mark Trumbo is the lone Angels hitter batting better than .250 against him, going 3 for 9.

Moore will run into an Angels (64-72) offense that has finally clicked during an underachieving season.

They recorded 16 hits in Monday's win and have scored 50 runs while winning nine of 10. They're 29 of 78 (.372) with runners in scoring position during that stretch, including an 8-for-17 performance on Monday.

Mike Trout was 2 for 4 Monday and scored two runs as he reached 20 homers and 30 steals for the second straight year. He also owns a .494 on-base percentage over his last 18 games.

''We talked after the All-Star break about being kind of a thorn in peoples' sides, and whether we win or lose make them feel like they've earned it,'' Hamilton said. ''That's what we've done the last couple of weeks.''

Scheduled starter Jason Vargas (8-5, 3.54) tries to beat the Rays for the second time in six days after throwing seven innings of two-hit ball in a 2-0 win at Tampa Bay. He also struck out seven in his fourth start since returning from a blood clot in his arm.

"Can't ask much more from Jason," manager Mike Scioscia said after the lefty also matched a season high with 114 pitches.

Vargas is 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his last four starts against the Rays.