Rays rookie Matt Moore received a great deal of preseason hype following a few excellent years in the Minors and a dazzling Major League debut in 2011, but White Sox southpaw Chris Sale has put up significantly better numbers so far in 2012.
Sale leads the red-hot White Sox into Monday afternoon's series opener with a 5-2 record and 2.50 ERA, whereas Moore carries a 1-4 record and 5.07 ERA.
Despite Moore's struggles, the Rays enter Monday tied atop the American League East with the surprising Orioles.
Moore has been brilliant at times, as he was through the first four innings of his most recent outing. But he has been equally shaky, as he was in his final inning on Tuesday, walking the bases loaded and completely losing the strike zone.
Manager Joe Maddon attributed some of that to the 22-year-old's youth, saying that Moore let the game speed up on him. That, in turn, caused him to hasten his delivery and get away from what he had been doing so well.
"Most of the time, when your physical mechanics break down, it's because of what you're thinking, and what you're thinking is too fast, your thoughts are too quick," Maddon said. "The real key there is to learn how to slow your thoughts down. If you're able to do that, then you can better focus on throwing the ball down and away. If you don't have that present-tense moment, it's really hard to execute what you're trying to do."
Maddon would like to see Moore learn something from fellow starters David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, as well as the injured Jeff Niemann. When faced with a big moment or a bad call, those four take a step behind the mound, rub the ball, gather their thoughts and go back fully composed.
"Hellickson does it all the time. Shields, [he's] not as demonstrative in his approach, but [he] does it," Maddon said. "Alex [Cobb] needs to do it, and Matt needs to do it. Niemann, that's a big part of his game when he's going well."
The 23-year-old Sale, meanwhile, has been consistently on his game, and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his eight starts this season. He gave up only two hits and struck out six over seven shutout innings against the Twins on Wednesday, establishing his fastball, working in his changeup and backing off his slider with A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate.
"Part of pitching is finding a groove and rolling with it," Sale said. "I felt early that I got into a groove, and A.J. was back there calling one of the best games I've seen him call in a while. It was fun to be out there. ... I felt like I was commanding my fastball well, and I threw the changeup for strikes more so than I have been. A.J. knew that. We used that to our advantage."
White Sox: Konerko on the brink of .400
After going 2-for-4 with his 11th homer of the season on Sunday, Paul Konerko saw his average climb to .399. The 36-year-old first baseman has never hit higher than .313 in any season, but he is off to a great start at the plate -- but not great enough to even think about hitting .400. In fact, he doesn't believe anyone can hit .400.
"Probably not. No way," Konerko said. "The only way I could see it happening is if a guy has one of those years where he was hurt the whole year but just qualified.
"There's too much good pitching; too many factors involved that would be working against you. If Ichiro [Suzuki] hasn't done it during his career -- and he probably had the best shot, because he could run and is left-handed, just an unbelievable hitter and could hit everything -- if he hasn't done it, I'm saying it won't be done. When he was right in the middle [of his career], it was like, if he couldn't do it, then nobody could."
Rays: Maddon anticipates first matchup with Ventura
This series will be the Rays' first against the White Sox under new skipper Robin Ventura, and Maddon is interested in learning the first-year manager's tendencies and quirks, from his bullpen usage to pitchouts to pinch-hitting strategies to controlling the running game.
"It's somewhat uncomfortable," Maddon said. "That's one situation [in which] I will rely more on advance information, try to look at the different things I normally look at with other guys. But it's even more important now, because I have no idea what Robin's going to be like.
"I do like him. This guy treated me with respect even before my bench-coaching days with the Angels. I remember several conversations with him back in the mid-'90s, and so when he got this job, I understand there's this component of him that would be attractive as a leader based on my conversations with him. ... I was happy for him when he got the job."
Center fielder B.J. Upton increased his hitting streak to 10 games on Sunday, tying his career high, with a single in the sixth inning. Upton is now batting .301; the last time his average was this high this late in the season was on June 3, 2008, when he was at .307.
The White Sox are 9-1 over their last 10 games following Sunday's 12-6 rout of the Indians. In those nine wins, they have outscored their opponents, 74-31.
The Rays are 17-7 at home this season but just 12-12 away from Tropicana Field. The White Sox are 14-9 on the road.