Tigers' Matt Moore has wobbly final tuneup; now, 'it's time to play ball'

John A. Vittas
Special to The Detroit News

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Veteran left-hander Matt Moore struggled against his former team Tuesday, allowing four runs, three earned, over three innings in a 9-3 loss to the Rays in the spring-training finale.

Tigers starting pitcher Matt Moore works against the Rays.

He allowed three runs in the first, needing 37 pitches to escape the inning. After retiring two of the first three batters, Moore allowed three straight two-out hits, including run-scoring doubles to Kevin Kiermaier and Avisail Garcia.

“He threw the ball over the middle too much today,” manager Ron Gardenhire. “Every time it looked like he made a pitch, they put it somewhere.

"He got his work in and he got his pitch count back up there.”

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Moore, signed as a free agent to give the rotation some depth, tossed 70 pitches over three innings, striking out three and walking one. Gardenhire wanted to pull Moore after two innings, but Moore convinced him to send him out for the third. He retired the Rays in order to finish off his final exhibition outing on a high note.

“I think I was doing a little too much,” Moore said. “I over-cooked a few pitches today. When I was throwing the off-speed pitches for strikes, I liked shape of them and I liked the swings on them. They were kind of off-balanced swings.

"I would’ve liked a better first inning right there, but to be able to calm it down in the second and third was the adjustment I was looking for."

BOX SCORE: Rays 9, Tigers 3

Now with his fourth organization, Moore hopes his spring-training work with the Tigers coaching staff can help him re-discover the form that propelled him to the American League All-Star team in 2013.

“More than anything, we’re trying to create a good rhythm,” Moore said. “A rhythm throughout my windup and throughout my delivery, where it doesn’t get compartmentalized.

"I’m just trying to be consistent throughout the movements.”

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Moore joins fellow veterans Jordan Zimmermann and Tyson Ross in the Tigers rotation. All three earned All-Star nods in either 2013 or 2014 and have logged a total of 27 seasons in the majors.

Matt Boyd and Spencer Turnbull round out the rotation.

“We have a lot of guys that have been around,” Moore said. “It feels a little bit more natural. Everybody has a good attitude. Everybody has had highs in their careers and we’re all trying to get back there at the same time.”

Gardenhire believes their major-league experience can pay dividends to both the veterans themselves as well as the younger pitchers on the staff.

“The good thing about these veterans is that they’re not afraid to sit down with guys,” he said. “They’re all very open to answer questions. They feed off each other. They talk a lot about their mechanics and all that stuff. It’s nice to see.”

A mentor to lean on

Moore provided a different type of advice to another Tigers pitcher this week.

After Michael Fulmer learned he would have Tommy John surgery and have to miss the 2019 season, Moore sat down to discuss the recovery process with him.

“I’m trying to encourage him about the road he’s about to go down,” Moore said. “He’s a young man and he has a lot of years ahead of him.”

Moore emphasized that maintaining a competitive edge was a key to his rehab from the surgery in 2014.

“If you can keep that edge about you and say, ‘I’m going to beat you in this bike race,’ or ‘I’m going to run a mile faster than you,’ you can kind of keep that edge about you.

"I mentioned that he should try to remain competitive in whatever he’s doing — if he’s playing a game of cards, playing video games or fishing. I’m just trying to remind him that better days are ahead.”

Let the season begin

The Tigers were to fly to Toronto on Tuesday night and enjoy a light day of work Wednesday.

In regards to transitioning to the regular season, Gardenhire said he’s most looking forward to sleeping in.

“It’s time to get the season going and get in a routine where I’m not getting up at five every morning to go to the ballpark,” he joked. “Right now, we’re gassed. We’ve been playing real baseball, now it just counts.”

Zimmermann is set to start the season opener for Detroit against Marcus Stroman.

“It’s exciting,” Gardenhire said. “It’s time to play ball.”

John A. Vittas is a freelance writer.