Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore got to know Orioles rookie Joey Rickard when the two were teammates with the Triple-A Durham Bulls for about a month while Moore was on a minor league rehabilitation assignment last year.
Rickard has come a long way since then, and Moore found that out the hard way Wednesday night, when the Orioles’ Rule 5 pick hit a three-run homer off his old teammate to give the Orioles a 3-1 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Before Rickard took Moore’s first-pitch sinker about 10 rows deep into the left-field seats of Tropicana Field, he had just two hits in 22 at-bats, scuffling through the first slump of his major league career.
And even though Moore conceded after Wednesday’s game that he didn’t think Rickard would be this much of a contributor this quickly, he noticed his composure last season.
"And hit leadoff for one of the better teams in the AL?” Moore said. “I don't think I was [thinking that]. He obviously was a very sharp player, very mature and stays within himself, which I think is hard to find, especially in a younger guy like him.
“I think he does a really good job of just being Joey and not trying to be somebody else. He is a tough out and last year when I got to play with him for a month you could definitely see the professionalism with him just in his preparation for the game and how he works his at-bats. He doesn't take anything off.''
Out of all of the Orioles’ power bats, it was the rookie Rule 5 pick who started last season in the Florida State League that provided the Orioles with some desperately needed offense Wednesday night. He couldn’t have picked a better time to emerge from his slump.
“I think we can take the Rule 5 description every time we bring up his name out,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “But he gets great support from the atmosphere these guys create and most important, they don’t take it too seriously.
“[Slumping second baseman Jonathan] Schoopy goes, ‘You think you have problems?’ They don’t let him dwell around that and I think looking around and him realizing whether it’s Adam [Jones] or Chris [Davis] or [Mark Trumbo], we all have some days and at-bats that aren’t perfect, but he’s grinding it and I think it’s a great example for him to see.”
Tillman mixing things up
Right-hander Chris Tillman’s slider will continue to get attention because he’s starting to use it more often and has been effective with it. But the key to Tillman’s 6 2/3-inning scoreless outing was his ability to mix all of his pitches effectively.
“Oh, he was good, really good,” Showalter said. “He’s been good most of the year, ever since spring training. He had a really good offseason. He was crisp, carrying a lot of pitches that [catcher] Matt [Wieters] and he could use and really had a good rock back and forth with some different speeds and different looks and angles. He was good. He was the difference in the game.”
How much did Tillman’s four-pitch mix have the Rays guessing? Tillman tied his career high with nine strikeouts, and eight of those were swinging. He used his fastball, changeup, curveball and slider to get those swinging strikeouts. But it was his slider – which is also sometimes recognized as a cutter – that drew four swinging strikeouts.
“It was there for me,” Tillman said. “I wouldn’t say it was [my] end-all. I think my breaking ball, curveball is a little more important for me right now. It’s a pitch I struggled with all last year. It was a pitch I tried to get going all last year.
"Fortunately, I’ve been able to get it going this year. I think that’s a big pitch for me. The slider’s been coming along. I have the confidence to throw it, and that’s a big part of it.”
Needed work for bullpen
Showalter took Tillman out of the game because he wanted to get his relievers some much-needed work. Darren O’Day, who replaced Tillman to pitch to one batter in the seventh, hadn’t pitched since April 21.
Take away five pitches Zach Britton threw Sunday and he also hadn’t pitched since April 21 before pitching the ninth.
Even Brad Brach, who leads the club with 11 appearances, hadn’t been used often recently. He threw a scoreless eighth.
Showalter has said it over and over, that he’s trying to use the bullpen so his relievers aren’t among the league leaders in appearances. Brach’s 11 appearances are close -- the major league lead was 12 appearances heading into Wednesday night. Mychal Givens has 10, and Darren O’Day and Zach Britton each have nine. So Showalter has done a good job of spreading the load and keeping the bullpen fresh.