ST. PETERSBURG -- The Indians rolled out of Toronto on Thursday night feeling good about their offense after scoring a combined 15 runs on 31 hits over three games. But their revamped lineup was no match for left-hander Matt Moore and the Rays on Friday night.
Moore struck out eight over six innings and the Tribe managed just two hits, both by Michael Bourn and neither of them after the third inning, in a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field. After bashing 14 hits Thursday, including eight for extra bases and two homers, Cleveland hit only five balls out of the infield the entire night.
So, why the big disparity between Thursday night's outburst and Friday night's shutout?
"I think their guy had something to do with that," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He's got enough of a fastball where you've got to respect that. Then you start flipping that breaking ball in for strikes, that made him really tough. Then their bullpen came in and just attacked the strike zone. They had a lead, and they did exactly what they're supposed to do."
Moore kept the Indians off balance and off the scoreboard for six innings, allowing only two hits and two walks to go along with his eight strikeouts on 100 pitches. Known mostly for his high-powered fastball, Moore beat the Indians mostly with his curveball and changeup in his first start of the regular season.
Cleveland had its best chance to score in the third inning, when Aviles drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on Bourn's double to right. But Asdrubal Cabrera knocked a grounder toward third baseman Evan Longoria, who scooped it up and chased down Aviles before firing the ball to catcher Jose Molina, who tossed it to Escobar to tag out Aviles. That left Bourn at second and Cabrera at first with two outs, but Moore struck out Jason Kipnis to end the inning.
"His velocity's down a little bit from last year," Kipnis said. "Last year, he was more like the 95-97 [mph] range. Today, it was kind of in the 92-94 [mph range], but he knows that.
"He's a smart pitcher, so he started using his offspeed a little bit more and moving the ball in and out. He wasn't throwing anything out there that we haven't seen. I just think we didn't take advantage of when we had guys on base and just didn't come up with a big hit tonight. But that's why there's a game tomorrow."
The Indians only got one more runner to second base after the third inning, and that was in the fourth, when Michael Brantley walked and took second on a groundout to first. While the Tribe struggled to put together any sort of offense, Moore and Rays relievers Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes and Joel Peralta pitched five perfect innings to close out the game. In all, Tampa Bay's pitching staff retired Cleveland's final 17 hitters in order.
"It feels good for us to have a combined shutout like that," Moore said. "It's something that we really work toward every game. To have the first one of the year on my night, it feels nice."
Indians right-hander Zach McAllister pitched fairly well in his own right for six innings, though he uncorked two wild pitches in the first four innings and missed a few more targets up and away -- something Francona attributed to McAllister overthrowing his fastball.
Still, McAllister had only allowed one hit in three innings before Tampa Bay broke through with two runs in the fourth. Left fielder Sam Fuld singled and scored on Ben Zobrist's double to right field. McAllister then gave up a single to Longoria, Tampa Bay's third straight hit to begin the inning, and Zobrist eventually scored on a groundout by Yunel Escobar.
McAllister's trouble continued in the fifth. After he recorded two quick outs, third baseman Mike Aviles booted a grounder that allowed Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings to get on base. Jennings moved to third when McAllister served up a hard-hit single to right field by Fuld, then Zobrist laced a line-drive double to right to score both runners and give the Rays a 4-0 lead.
"If I pick Mike up there, it's a different ballgame: We're down two and have a really good chance to score some runs," McAllister said. "It's something I'm disappointed in, not being able to pick him up and it's something I'm going to be able to hopefully do a lot better job of this year. But overall, I thought it was OK."
Unfortunately for the Tribe, "OK" wasn't good enough Friday night. And Moore was just a little too good.
"He had his offspeed stuff working, really pounding the zone, working ahead of guys," said Indians first baseman Nick Swisher, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. "Any time you get into a position like that, man, he really kind of got into that groove. It makes for a tough day."