Matt Moore finally turned in the kind of start Tampa Bay was growing used to before his elbow injury. The next order of business is getting his ERA under seven for the first time this season.
The left-hander will try for a follow-up effort Tuesday night in Boston, where the now last-place Rays will attempt to avoid dropping the first two of a four-game series with the Red Sox.
Moore (1-4, 7.06 ERA) limited Baltimore to two hits in seven scoreless innings of Thursday's 4-3 loss and struck out a season-high nine without a walk for the first time this year. It was also his first time going beyond five innings in a major league start since his first of two in 2014 before undergoing elbow surgery.
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"I think it's absolutely something I can build on and kind of continue to look forward. Let's build on those seven scoreless," Moore told MLB's official website. "And just being able to execute a little better, especially when I was ahead in the count, and be able to make a good pitch. Those are the kinds of things I'm looking for out of myself."
Prior to that, the 26-year-old surrendered a season-high eight runs - six earned - and nine hits in five innings of a 10-4 home loss to Boston on Sept. 12, dropping him to 2-4 with a 6.11 ERA in six starts in the series. He gave up four home runs in the latest meeting with David Ortiz hitting two to improve to 8 for 18 with three homers and two doubles against Moore.
Moore will oppose Henry Owens, who was nearly as strong in his last start, which came the day before Moore's and also against the Orioles. Owens (3-2, 4.33) pitched 7 2-3 scoreless in a 10-1 win in Baltimore for his first win in his last four.
The left-hander didn't issue a walk for the first time in eight big league starts, which probably comes as a relief after posting 4.25 walks per nine innings in his first seven.
"He was dialing up pitches left and right," interim manager Torey Lovullo said. "Some of the comments (catcher) Blake (Swihart) was saying as he was coming in from the inning is that he was not missing a spot. You started to hear little things like that and he was just in cruise control and you know that it's going to be a special night for him."
He's struggled at Fenway Park, posting a 6.86 ERA in four starts.
Boston (72-77) opened the series with Monday's 8-7 win for its third straight overall and against Tampa Bay (72-78). The Red Sox haven't been less than five games under .500 since July 11. Since dipping to a season-worst 14 games under .500 on Aug. 12, Boston is 22-13 with 6.1 runs per game and an MLB-best .301 average.
Xander Bogaerts provided most of the offense with a grand slam and an RBI double. The shortstop is batting .391 on a 10-game hitting streak, his .323 average is higher than it's been since April 19, and he's within 14 points of Miguel Cabrera for the AL batting lead.
"You know that power's in there," Lovullo said. "We're seeing it of late. He's getting that backswing and the ball's jumping off his bat. I think the upside is unlimited."
The loss dropped Tampa Bay a half game back of Boston, and the Rays are alone in last place this late in the season for the first time since ending 2007 at 66-96.