Matt Moore is the game’s top pitching prospect and he just dominated a potent lineup, in his second big league start, in a post-season contest. Of course, you already knew that. Given the plethora of articles lauding and analyzing the 22-year-old lefthander, it is likely you know plenty more. With that in mind, what better way to delve even deeper than by discussing the art of pitching with the man himself?
Moore sat down to talk about his overpowering repertoire, and his approach on the mound, when the Rays visited Fenway Park late in the regular season.
David Laurila: Do you identify yourself as a power pitcher?
Matt Moore: I sit 93 to 95, and I’m a starter, so I guess that fits into the classification of a power pitcher. I throw a hard breaking ball, around 82-84, and my changeup is around the same, about 81-83. I don’t have a mentality of, “Okay, I’m going to blow this by somebody,” but I do like to challenge guys with my best fastball. I have a good fastball — it’s my strength — so I’m going to challenge guys.
DL: Do individual hitters influence what you do on the mound?
MM: Not really. It doesn’t matter what they do at the plate, it matters what I do on the mound. As far as I’m concerned, if I take care of the things I need to… I’ll just go from there, and as soon as an adjustment needs to be made, then I’ll think about it.
For me, the simpler things are — especially what’s going on between my ears — the better off I am. When I’m going good, there aren’t a lot of things going through my mind. The easier and simpler I make things, the easier it is for me to pitch.
DL: Have you made any mechanical changes since signing?
MM: Yes. It’s been four years now, so there have definitely been some mechanical changes. I go over my head now, whereas when I first got here, I didn’t. I throw from the third base side of the rubber instead of the first base side. Aside from that, it’s basically been repetition. Little things change here and there without you really even paying attention to them.
DL: Is there a Rays pitching philosophy that you were taught coming up through the system?
MM: No, they just want us to get guys out. That’s it. It’s just baseball. It’s not like the Rays try to do anything different from the Yankees or the Red Sox. Every pitcher has their own set of tools and what they do. For an organization to say, “Okay, this is the way we want everybody to pitch”… Nobody does that.
There are certain things that are mandatory for us to do, such as lead recognition. That’s something that’s huge in our organization — what are they doing when they’re on base? But as far as mentality, and the way that you pitch, it’s all up to you, your catcher, and your coach, at each level.
DL: I assume the value of first-pitch strikes is emphasized?
MM: Yes, and that’s the biggest thing that has changed with me. My walk rate has gone down incredibly, because I started doing a better job of throwing strike one.
DL: How would you describe your curveball?
MM: I throw a spiked curveball. I use it for strike one and it’s the same pitch for a put away. It’s 82-84, so it’s more of a slurve. It’s not really a 12-to-6, or a slider, it’s somewhere in between. It’s been a big pitch for me the last four years and I’m confident in throwing it in any count now.
DL: There’s no difference in break or velocity depending on counts or situations?
MM: Not really. There’s maybe a little difference in the sense that when I’m throwing strike one, I’m going to aim somewhere different, because I want to throw strike one. When I’m throwing it for a put away, I don’t want it in the zone; I want to throw it in the zone and then out of the zone. Other than that, it’s the same pitch.
DL: How precise are you about finger placement, and finger pressure, when you throw your curveball?
MM: It’s just the same pitch. I just grab it. It’s something that’s as easy as tying your shoes. You tie your shoes the same way every day, don’t you? It’s the same way with baseball players. There’s no reason for somebody to change something unless it needs to be changed, so it’s the same pitch. I don’t think about it. It’s natural and I just grip the ball and throw it.
DL: What if you don’t have a good feel for it on a given day?
MM: You might [think about the grip] if you’re trying to figure out the pitch, but once you have that pitch going… It’s just whatever the feel is that night. Some nights your arm might not feel as good, so you start grabbing the ball a little tighter to get it to bite a little more. Or maybe you have to loosen back, because you’re spiking it. It’s just adjustments, really small adjustments like that, but you really don’t even notice anymore, because it’s just so automatic. As soon as something… If you spike one, all right, maybe I’m gripping it a little too tight. There are so many variables going on, but as an individual pitcher, I know myself. I know when something isn’t going right and I know how to fix it, hopefully within two pitches.
DL: Can you say a little about your changeup?
MM: This is the first year I’ve actually thrown my changeup as much as I have, and in the situations that I have. It was a mindset going into the season. I knew I had to develop the pitch and I wasn’t going to develop a pitch just by simply throwing it. I was going to develop it by throwing it in situations where I wasn’t comfortable. I had to be uncomfortable before I got comfortable.
That pitch, now… I wouldn’t say that I have a second or third pitch. I’d say that my changeup and breaking ball are right there. It’s whichever one, depending on which side of the plate the guy is standing on, and what kind of swings he’s been taking. I’m equally confident with my curveball and changeup.
DL: Do you need to strike hitters out in order to be successful?
MM: Well, I don’t strike everybody out. If I strike out 200 guys a season, that’s only a small percentage of the at bats. I get more outs in ways other than strikeouts. If I’m out there for seven innings, there are 21 outs to be made and maybe I’ll strike out eight or nine. I’ll get more outs from ground balls or fly balls.
DL: Are you concerned with your fly ball-ground ball ratio?
MM: Not at all. I’m just concerned about getting guys out. An out is an out.
DL: You’re in a situation similar to what David Price was in a few years ago. Have you talked to him about that?
MM: Yeah, a little bit. But there’s a lot of stuff going on right now, so [I do] as much as I can without getting in the way of what he’s doing, I’m trying to pick his brain at a rate that’s not annoying. At the same time, he’s very understanding and very helpful. He’s one of the nicer guys I’ve met and he’s definitely there for me.
There have been some discussions between us about what it’s like to come out of the bullpen. He was a starter at Vanderbilt and when he came here, in 2008, they started using him out of the pen, so there have been little things like what to expect and how to prepare for them.
DL: Is part of his advice to just keep doing what you got you here?
MM: Yeah. What he’s basically told me is that what I was doing in the minor leagues is the reason why I’m here. It doesn’t make sense to start trying to anything different just because I’m [in the big leagues]. That would just make me uncomfortable, and this game is all about being comfortable.