ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Matt Moore pitched up to the lofty recent standards set by the Tampa Bay pitching staff. And when the Rays added some hits and runs, that made things look easy.
Moore threw six sharp innings, Jose Lobaton drove in three runs and the Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 7-1 Thursday for a three-game sweep.
“Our staff and our entire lineup right now, we’re playing well,” Moore said after winning in the finale of a six-game homestand. “It’s a very good time for us in this clubhouse, and there’s a lot of looking forward to going on the road right now.”
Moore (9-7) gave up one run and two hits, retiring 14 straight batters during one stretch. He won his third straight start, striking out six and walking two.
That kind of pitching has become routine for the Rays, who have allowed more than one run in only six of their last 19 games.
Hitting has been another matter. The Rays took the AL’s worst batting average (.230) and lowest scoring output (441 runs) into the game, but Evan Longoria drove in two runs and had three hits.
Jeff Keppinger also had three of Tampa Bay’s 13 hits. The Rays got seven runs after scoring only nine in he first five games of the homestand.
Longoria, who missed 85 games with a partially turn hamstring, came inches short of his first home run since April. His RBI double in the eighth inning was close enough for the umpire crew to review before determining it had bounced off a rail and back into play.
It would have been the Rays’ first home run in five games.
“With the addition of guys like Longo, I think everybody else is able to relax a bit and gain some confidence, and once you’re able to do that, things start rolling,” outfielder Matt Joyce said.
Tampa Bay has won 16 straight series against Toronto at Tropicana Field. The Rays have won six of eight games overall while the Blue Jays have lost 15 of their last 19.
“I truly believe it can become contagious, offensively speaking,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s all based on confidence.”
The confidence of the Rays’ pitching staff has never been higher. It has reached the point where Moore’s first two innings on Thursday were considered something of a struggle.
“The start of the game wasn’t the way I wanted to start — 27 pitches in the top half,” he said. “I just didn’t quite have the feel for things there in the first inning.”
Rajai Davis led off the game with a double and scored the Blue Jays’ run on Moore’s balk. It was the only run given up by Moore in his last three starts. The rookie left-hander is 8-2 with a 2.92 ERA since the end of May.
“Obviously I’m extremely pleased with where I’ve come from the beginning of the season,” he said. “After not putting together too many quality starts, now I’m getting a little more hungry for the eighth or ninth inning, just to see what those are like.”
An error on first baseman Edwin Encarnacion opened the way for the Rays’ three-run second inning off Henderson Alvarez (7-9).
Alvarez gave up 11 hits in 4 2-3 innings.
NOTES: The Blue Jays placed 3B Brett Lawrie on the disabled list in order to give him eight more days to recover from an injury in his rib/oblique area. Toronto will fill Lawrie’s roster spot before Friday night’s game … Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann, on the disabled list since May 15 with a fractured right fibula, will make a second rehabilitation start Monday or Tuesday and hopes to return by the end of August. … Rays DH Luke Scott (strained right oblique) will begin a rehab assignment Friday. … Ben Zobrist played shortstop for the Rays for the first time since 2009 . . . INF Brooks Conrad has accepted his re-assignment, and the Rays released Matt Mangini to make room for Conrad on the Durham roster.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press