ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.: Pitching is everything, except when it isn’t.
Matt Moore manhandled the Indians Friday night, as the Tampa Bay Rays blanked the Tribe 4-0 at Tropicana Field. Zach McAllister certainly didn’t match the efficiency exhibited by Moore, but one misplay in the field did as much to ruin his evening as did Ben Zobrist, who doubled twice and drove in three runs.
It was a case of good pitching against better pitching, and you know who wins that one.
“I thought McAllister was pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He made a couple of mistakes and Zobrist made him pay for it.”
McAllister was making his first start of the season and for three innings gave up only a ground-rule double with one out in the third.
In the fourth, the Rays got to him for two runs on Sam Fuld’s leadoff single, Zobrist’s RBI double, Evan Longoria’s single and an RBI groundout by Yunel Escobar.
No big deal. Nobody was expecting McAllister to throw a shutout. Surely the Tribe would score twice somehow, some way.
But the deficit quickly became four runs in the fifth on a rally that began with two out, which is why third baseman Mike Aviles’ muff of a hard ground ball off the bat of Desmond Jennings became a killer. Nevertheless, with two outs already on the board, it was McAllister’s job to get the third out before any damage could be done.
Instead, McAllister gave up a single to Fuld, as Jennings raced to third, and Zobrist doubled home both runners. Of course, McAllister shouldn’t have had to face Zobrist, but he did, and Zobrist beat him for the second time.
“One thing I’m learning about McAllister is that when someone commits an error behind him, he wants to compete so hard and pick up a teammate that he overcompetes,” Francona said. “But that’s a quality you like to see.”
And it’s not like McAllister has a history of being Zobrist’s patsy. Coming into the game, the Rays right-fielder was 0-for-5 against McAllister.
“I’m disappointed that I couldn’t pick up Mike,” McAllister said. “That’s something I want to be able to do this year.”
Overall, McAllister thought his outing was acceptable, and it’s difficult to argue with that.
“I thought I was all right, solid,” he said. “Nothing spectacular but I was OK.”
The Indians didn’t have a lot of great chances against Moore, who was rated the major leagues’ No. 2 prospect by Baseball America at the start of the 2012 season. He went on to post a 12-11 record and 3.76 ERA to solidify his reputation as one of the game’s glossiest newcomers.
“His velocity was down a little from last year,” said Jason Kipnis, whose drive to the center-field fence was dragged down by Jennings in the first inning. “He was throwing 95-97 last season and 92-94 tonight. But he knows he’s a smart pitcher, so he started using his off-speed pitches and throwing in and out.”
Said Francona, “Kipnis hit that 402 feet or whatever, and we needed it to be 403.”
One of Moore’s distinguishing statistics last season was his strikeout rate per nine innings: 8.9. He was even better than that Friday night, striking out eight in six innings.
“Moore threw well tonight,” Kipnis said. “I have to tip my cap. But I think we let him off the hook a few times. It’s only the fourth game of the season and nobody is going to push the panic button.”
Michael Bourn led off the game by beating out a ground ball to short and was sacrificed to second, but nothing came of it. The Tribe’s best chance against Moore occurred in the third, when Aviles led off with a walk.
Drew Stubbs struck out but Bourn doubled Aviles to third. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a ground ball to third. Aviles started to make a dash for the plate but held up and got caught in a rundown to kill the prospective rally.
Moore gave up two hits — both by Bourn — none after the third. The Rays’ bullpen gave up no hits in three innings but struck out three more batters for a team total of 11.
There was a noticeable profusion of off-speed and breaking pitches thrown by Moore.
“I think he threw me a couple of fastballs,” Nick Swisher said. “But when you only see a couple and foul them off, it’s tough. And he really got into a groove.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.