By TED SILLANPAA
Given that he cost the club popular third baseman Matt Duffy and joined the San Francisco Giants in the middle of a horrific slump, there was more than a little pressure on former Tampa Bay Rays’ lefthander Matt Moore debuting by trying to keep the club from being swept in a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Moore, thanks largely to questionable strike zone that haunted every pitcher, walked six batters. However, he struck out seven and allowed just three hits in a six-inning outing in a 3-2, 10-inning win over the Phillies.
Moore’s stuff looked like the star lefty he was before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was 11-11 as a rookie in 2013, then was a sparkling 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 2014. The sky seemed his limit.
Of Moore’s season-high six walks Thursday, three started innings. The Giants traded Duffy to get Moore, who hit 97 mph on the speed gun in his debut. He threw his knuckle-curve for strikes on 24 of 33 tries. The Phillies scored a run before Moore retired a batter in the first, but didn’t get another hit until the sixth inning as Moore searched for the moving strike zone and baffled the hot Phillies with that curveball.
“The Phillies have been swinging the bats well, and what? Three hits off him?” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said reflecting on Moore’s outing that made clear why the infielders-rich club was willing to deal Duffy to add the lefty.”Some of those pitches were close. He didn’t let it get away from him.”
Moore served as a much-needed stopper after the Phillies roughed up Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto to open the series with consecutive gut-wrenching losses. Moore got the win that sends San Francisco to Washington to play the Nationals with the momentum a strong pitching performance and Denard Spann’s 10th-inning home run gives the NL West leading Giants. Knowing the pressure the Duffy deal put on him, he wasn’t thrilled by his six-inning stint.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting ahead,” Moore said after overthrowing and giving up a 1-0 lead to start the first inning. “I had to get back into too many counts.” He was cool as ice on a hot day in Philadelphia after the first.
The former Rays’ ace looked good enough for the Giants to be a Jeff Samardzjia rebound from having the best starting rotation in baseball. He certainly learned about his teammates in a hurry.
“I got the vibe that something good is right about to happen,” Moore explained. “The everyday guys, they know it’s going to happen. They believe it.”
The Giants are certainly due for good fortune. They are 2-9 on the road since the All-Star break heading to Washington.
“I don’t see that panic or that urgency that can come over you,” Moore said of the Giants. “They just know something good is about to go their way.”
After Span hit the game-winning homer and collected two other hits to snap a personal slump, he admitted the knuckle curve gives Moore the unique weapon the Giants hoped he’d become.
“I didn’t realize his curveball was that good,” said the center fielder who had a great view of Moore’s work.”That was his out pitch. I don’t think anybody put a good swing on it all day.”
The acquisition of Moore comes while Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzjia struggle to win after rarely losing in the first half of the season. While they’ve been hit hard lately, it’s noteworthy that Moore has a 95’ish fastball the can chew upnrighthand hitters and nasty curve he commands amazingly well. He stopped the Phillies after the streaking young club battered Bumgarner and Cueto.
The knuckle curve is thrown with the fingernail on Moore’s left hand digging into the seams and the ball snapping off his middle finger. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner told Comcast Sports’ Giants’ play-by-play announcer Duane Kuiper that the knuckle curve breaks so sharply and spins so tightly that “you can hear it spinning when it’s crosses the plate.”
The Giants’ got what they wanted from Moore Thursday — a performance where he didn’t have his best stuff, but still quieted a hot-hitting young team. Now, he hopes to be a prophet after saying “Something good is about to happen.”
“It’s August, so it’s now or never,” Spann said. “We really needed to get one win here.”