Matt Moore’s journey to the Rangers’ bullpen

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There was a time when Matt Moore’s blazing fastball was the future of the Tampa Bay Rays starting the rotation.

Now, 11 years, four major league teams and one Japanese League team later, Moore is the backbone of the Rangers’ bullpen.

Baseball can be a strange journey, and it doesn’t get any stranger than Moore, who recorded his first MLB save against the Houston Astros on Monday.

“It’s not usually game over when I get off the field,” Moore said with a chuckle.

Moore was brought into service after Rangers closer Joe Barlow served in back-to-back games with the Chicago White Sox on Saturday and Sunday. Moore thought he might have attended a game when Rangers lost a run before cobbling up three runs at the bottom of the eighth.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward stuck by Moore despite never having been in this situation before.

“I told him, ‘You made this look so easy,'” said Rangers pitcher Taylor Hearn. “He’s been in the game for a long time. I’m happy for him.”

Moore’s journey to Texas began with the Rays, who made him an eight-round high school pick in 2007. His fastball caught everyone’s attention, and by September 2011 he was in Tampa and for two years becoming one of the game’s top players, the fascinating young pitchers.

The Rays signed a five-year, $14 million guaranteed contract in December with a September 22 start where he became the first pitcher in MLB history to record 11 strikeouts in five innings or fewer against the New York Yankees. He later started in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Texas.

In his only All-Star season in 2013, he won 17 games and finished ninth on Cy Young voting. During that season, he became the first left-handed AL pitcher to start a season with an 8-0 record aged 23 or younger since Babe Ruth in 1917.

Then the elbow problems began two starts in 2014. This was followed by Tommy John’s surgery. He missed most of 2015 and returned for a full season in 2016, but was dealt out to San Francisco on deadline. He lost a National League-high 15 games in 2017, and that was it for Moore in the Bay Area.

He signed with Rangers in 2018 and went 3-8 in 12 starts and 39 appearances with a 6.79 earned run average. In 2019 he moved to Detroit, played two games, tore a meniscus in his knee and missed the rest of the season.

He played with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in 2020. His form returned. He pitched 85 innings. He was part of a combined no-hitter. He helped Fukuoka win the Japan Series.

Philadelphia took a flyer on him in 2021 and he went 2-4 with a 6.29 ERA. He struggled, but he also showed lightning. He hit nine hitters in 4 1/3 innings against Miami. He later threw six innings of no-hit ball against Cincinnati. But the Phillies weren’t interested in keeping him.

Rangers re-signed Moore on March 14. Woodward said when he went into spring training, he heard something was different about Moore this time.

“I found out from a good friend in Arizona who reached out to me preseason and said, ‘Hey, this guy’s in the best shape I’ve seen,'” Woodward said. “During camp you could see him starting to figure out that curveball.”

Not content with carrying Moore to Arlington, the Rangers sent him to Triple-A Round Rock. But they called him on April 22, and Moore doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.

Through Wednesday’s game, Moore is 3-0 with defense and a 2.54 ERA. The earned run average is significant. He hasn’t been this low since the 2.70 he posted in the two games he played for Tampa in 2014. In fact, the only time Moore had an ERA below 3.00 in the majors was in 2011, his draft season. and 2014. He pitched in a total of five regular season games during those two seasons.

Moore has emerged from the bullpen as a flexible option for the Rangers. His stuff is still good enough to give the Rangers a tough inning. But the bite on his curveball makes him a better option for several innings, which is the main role he’s taken with Rangers.

At 32 and with all his experience, he has also become the Elder Statesman of the bullpen.

“It’s so important to what we’re trying to do here,” Woodward said. “You know, people like John King, who had a rough day the other day,[Moore]sits with him and talks to him about it. There’s more stuff like that. This is so priceless for our culture. I can’t say enough about it.”

Meanwhile, Moore continues to take the ball and reinvent himself from starter to rescuer to emergency closer.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about the ninth inning, you know?” Moore said. “As a beginner, I never thought, ‘Oh man, I wonder if I could do this?’ You know? Not too serious. And now that you’re in the bullpen, you never know.”

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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