Matt Moore understands Rays promise him nothing

David Brown

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — With almost no major league track record on which to base his decision, manager Joe Maddon chose left-hander Matt Moore to open the 2011 playoffs for the Tampa Bay Rays. Moore was 22 years old with three appearances and one start to his credit for the Rays, who would be facing one of the toughest lineups in the league.

By now you probably know that Moore dominated the Texas Rangers, allowing two hits over seven innings and striking out six in a 9-0 victory, Tampa Bay's only win of the playoffs. Who knows? Moore could have been the best pitcher in the postseason, had the Rays given him a chance to keep going.

Further, in December, the Rays signed Moore to a contract extension, the biggest deal ever granted a pitcher with less than a year of service time. He could make as much as $40 million over the next eight seasons if he earns all of the incentives.

But there's nothing in Moore's contract, or his dazzling if small-sample size stats, that guarantee him a spot in Maddon's pitching rotation.

"Everybody's expecting the moon out of this guy," Maddon said Tuesday. "I just want him to go out and be 'Matt Moore: Left-Handed Pitcher,' and to get ready for this season. Of course, his name has not been etched in the five-man rotation yet. I have him still competing."

That's how Moore sees it, too.

"He's saying that because he means it," Moore said, looking around Tampa Bay's clubhouse. "There's that guy, [prospect] Alex Cobb, right there and everybody else who had time last year as a starter is very capable of filing any of those positions that open up in the rotation. Absolutely it's a competition."

Maddon is being cautious, partly, because expectations for Moore are a lot like those for David Price in 2009 after Price played a big role in the Rays reaching the '08 World Series. Price was OK in '09 but didn't step in and dominate during his first full season.

"For guys like that, people really expect and assume a lot," Maddon said. "And, for me, you've really got to pay a lot of attention to guys like that."

For Moore, dominating a regular-season start at Yankee Stadium, plus seven innings of zeroes against the Rangers, doesn't mean much now. Moore is still a rookie, he says, in every sense.

"I think I have 17 days of service time, so I haven't actually had too much time to get used to being on the road and in bigger cities and playing in different ballparks all the time," Moore said. "And seeing lineups that I haven't seen before. So all that stuff is still new."

And no matter that Baseball America recently tabbed him as the No. 2 prospect in the league after Washington's Bryce Harper, which by itself makes Moore a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year.

"For people to expect things to happen [for me], you need to expect that," Moore said. "It's just a little forecasting. I understand, that's natural for people to do. Myself, I can't get ahead. There's still a spot that I'm competing for in this rotation. All of the talk of the awards that could come in the postseason, you just understand as a player ... I'm just trying to get to place where I have a spot in the rotation."

That's three times Moore mentioned having to compete for a spot in the rotation. He's got work to do, doggone it.

"I worked just as hard this offseason as I have in the past," Moore said. "I have the same mindset. I have to actually make the team. I had to make the Double-A roster (in 2011), and before that I had to make the [Class A] Charlotte roster."

Moore expects to put in a lot of time working at holding runners. He paid close attention to coach Dick Bosman explain the art of doing so during drills Tuesday.

"Fortunately, being left-handed, they put the runners right in front of you at first base, so a lot of lead recognition is taken care of because I can see the guy right in front of me," Moore said. "The first move, the step-off move, the high leg-kick move. With all three of those, it's basically one pickoff move because I've gotten somebody with all three of them.

"It's all coming together."

Just not too quickly.

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