Buehrle, Moore Headed In Opposite Directions
A defeat Tuesday night would mark the first series the Blue Jays have lost since dropping two of three to the Padres in a wacky three-game set from May 31 to June 2. For Toronto, the good news is that the club has won 11 of its past 12 games, is back in the American League East race, and will have shortstop Jose Reyes in the lineup for Wednesday's finale for the first time in over two months.
Before the return of Reyes, the Blue Jays and Rays will clash Tuesday in a matchup that features a pair of southpaws heading in opposite directions.
At the start of the season, Mark Buehrle was getting rocked more often than not and serving up Barry Zito-like beach balls to the opposition. In Buehrle's first seven starts, the last of which he allowed seven runs in the third inning of a no-decision to the Rays, the lefty had a 7.02 ERA, while getting hammered to the tune of a .308/.364/.547 slash line with 11 homers. It was not pretty.
Since? The soft-tossing veteran has been the Blue Jays' most reliable starter.
Buehrle has a 2.65 ERA and has allowed just two home runs, while holding hitters to a .237/.287/.345 line over his last eight starts. One thing Buehrle has been doing differently as the season has progressed, according to Brooksbaseball.net, is throwing more cutters and changeups and less fastballs. Now that may mean absolutely nothing, but there is a discrepancy in usage. And since that weird outing against Tampa, Buehrle is holding hitters to a .146 average and .236 slugging percentage on his changeup -- opponents were slugging .200 points higher before then.
The big thing, however, is that Buehrle, who isn't going to overpower hitters, has been keeping the ball on the ground -- an important aspect of his game. Buehrle's groundball rate by the month -- April: 39.2%; May: 47.5%; June: 49.4%.
He is running into a lineup, though, that is hitting lefties as well as anyone this season. Against left-handers, Tampa Bay hitters rank first in the Majors in batting average (.287), slugging (.453), and OPS (.798).
Buehrle's opponent on Tuesday, Tampa's Matt Moore, certainly has the stuff but can be his own worst enemy with his inability to consistently find the strike zone. When the lefty is on, he can punch out hitters with the best of them -- evidenced by his 30.9% strikeout rate in April -- but control issues have prevented him from going deeper into games. Moore has gone more than six innings just twice since the start of May, and his 14% walk rate in the month of June -- his highest of the season -- is only surpassed by one qualified starter. His strikeout rate is down, too.
It's tough to be at your best when you are constantly working from behind, which is what Moore has been doing. Moore's throwing first-pitch strikes to 52% of the batters he faces, which is the lowest mark among starting pitchers.
Moore held hitters to a .121/.230/.215 line in April. In June, that has skyrocketed to .380/.460/.570. The 24-year-old had an ERA of 2.18 after May, that now sits at 4.13 entering Tuesday's outing. His K/BB rate by the month: 2.53, 1.46, 1.07.
One thing that is potentially concerning with Moore is his drop in velocity. His average fastball is close to two mph slower than it was last season, per Fangraphs.com, and it's a pitch getting hit much harder than his softer stuff. Moore has a dynamite changeup and curveball that he will turn to a good amount when ahead in the count and with his control issues, the Blue Jays should be patient and force him to beat them with his heater.
[h/t Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball for stats]