Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon knew exactly what to look for when Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore took the mound on Saturday night.
"If you're seeing him repeat his delivery, look at the full counts," Maddon said before Moore dominated the Chicago White Sox for six innings at U.S. Cellular Field. "If he's throwing a fastball strike on a full count, heads up ... he's going to have a good night."
It only took three batters into Moore's outing for that exact scenario to unfold and he did, indeed, have a good night in the Rays' 10-4 win, their first victory in the four-game weekend series.
After walking White Sox leadoff hitter Alejandro De Aza and striking out Tyler Greene to start the game, Moore (5-0) went to a full count on Alex Rios -- the No.3 hitter. Just as Maddon said, Moore went to his fastball. Rios swung and missed for the second out and Moore struck out Adam Dunn to end the inning.
It was just the start of a masterful performance that resulted in a fifth straight win for the 23-year old Moore, who lasted six innings, struck out nine and gave up one run.
"I think a lot of it just has to do with aggression," Moore said of his mindset on full counts this year. "Before it gets to a 3-2 count, what am I doing with those pitches? If I'm not being aggressive pitching with conviction toward the target, a lot of nights it's going to be a short night. Those 3-2 counts turn into (walks) real quick. It's just staying aggressive and trusting the defense behind me."
So far, Moore has also been able to count on the offense to give him an early lead. It happened again in this outing, after Matt Joyce walked with one out in the top of the first and Ben Zobrist smacked a two-run home run in the next at bat.
Despite allowing Adam Dunn's two-out solo homer in the sixth for Chicago's first hit and run of the game, Moore left after six innings with a 5-1 lead. The Rays really broke it open afterhe left the game by scoring twice in the seventh, once in the eighth and tacking on two more runs in the ninth to give their bullpen plenty of insurance runs.
Tampa Bay(11-13) was led offensively by Zobrist (2 for 5, home run, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (4 for 6, RBI, 2 runs), James Loney (3 for 5, 2 RBI) and Kelly Johnson (4 for 5, 2 RBI).
Johnson's four hits were a career high, and Longoria's four hits matched his career best. The Rays came into the game hitting just .229 as a team, so breaking out was a pretty sight for the guys in the visitors' dugout.
"Offensively, pretty good night up and down (the lineup)" Maddon said. "A lot of guys had great nights. It was a really interesting offensive night and hopefully we're going to gain some confidence from that."
Alexei Ramirez and Conor Gillaspie each went 2 for 4 and drove in a run to lead the White Sox, who rallied briefly in the bottom of the eighth to score three runs and make it 8-4 heading into the ninth. The Rays have struggled protecting late leads, but Cesar Ramos slammed the door and secured the win for Moore.
"It seems like every time we've been on the road, I've had a lead going out there in the bottom of the first," Moore said. "That makes is so much easier for a starting pitcher to be able to kind of kill those nerves or anxiousness going out there for the first."
In his previous start, Moore went a career-high eight innings and also struck out nine in a 5-1 win against the New York Yankees. This time, he whiffed six straight through the first two and nearly struck out the side again in the fourth -- before Dunn cranked a 2-2 pitch into the seats.
Gavin Floyd started for the White Sox (10-13) but left with two outs in the third because of a flexor muscle strain in his right elbow.
"Right now we have it as a strained muscle toward his elbow," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "It's one of those that's looking more like a (disabled list stint), kind of like he had last year."
Should Floyd wind up on the DL, it just adds another name to the already long list of Sox players dealing with various injuries.
"It's like the hits keep coming," Ventura said. "We've just got to find a way to keep going."
Floyd's early departure forced Ventura to call in reliever Hector Santiago, who is the likely candidate to take Floyd's spot in the starting rotation.
Santiago hadn't allowed a run in 10 2/3 innings through six appearances, but the Rays changed that quickly. Santiago gave up four runs and 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings, including Desmond Jennings' home run that made it 5-1 in the sixth.
Floyd gave up two runs -- both on the home run by Zobrist in the first.
"Tonight, the story's the Moore kid," Ventura said. "He's good. He was cruising for most of the game. It's just one of those you get it kicked in and look for (Sunday).
Moore, who struck out six straight hitters between the first and second innings, was fantastic. He had eight strikeouts through 3 2/3 innings and dropped his ERA to 1.13 while going undefeated through the month of April.
He was already the first pitcher in Rays history to win his first four starts of a season, so that record got extended, and was the first pitcher 23-or-younger to go 4-0 with an ERA of 1.10 or less in his first four starts since former Dodgers sensation Fernando Rodriguez did it at age 20 in 1981 -- the year he won the National League's Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.
"When he really gets a good feel for where his fastball's going, heads up because ... fastball command makes the world go around for a pitcher," Maddon said. "So, it's getting better (for Moore) and as it gets better he's going to get even better beyond the numbers you're seeing right now."