Once he struck out his first batter, Matt Moore knew he was back in charge.
Moore pitched into the sixth inning in his return from the disabled list, and the Tampa Bay Rays got home runs from Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar in a 7-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night.
"That strikeout, it was a good sign," said Moore, who fanned J.B. Shuck leading off the Angels first. "Just to get into a good sequence like that with the first hitter and not falling behind helped me out a lot. I felt like when I was in counts like 1-2, 2-1, where it looked like it was going to get into hitters' counts, I felt like I was able to battle and make some pitches."
Moore (15-3) won his seventh straight decision, yielding an unearned run and four hits in 5 1-3 innings as the Rays snapped a five-game losing streak and remained 5 1/2 games behind AL East-leading Boston. The first-time All-Star, who missed the entire month of August because of elbow soreness, had won six straight outings before getting a no-decision his previous time out on July 28 at Yankee Stadium.
"It didn't really feel foreign out there. I think all of the thoughts I had were pretty typical for a start," Moore said. "Just being able to travel with the team on the road when I was on the DL and be in the dugout in every home game was big for me because it helped me stay in the game."
Roberto Hernandez struck out his first five batters after relieving Moore, and seven altogether in 3 2-3 perfect innings to record his first save in eight major league seasons. It was only his second relief outing since his rookie season with Cleveland in 2006.
"When he walks out and you give him the ball, he's very businesslike. He was outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "With that kind of a lead, you want Roberto to keep going."
Moore's biggest moment came in the fourth, when he retired rookie Grant Green on a popup with two men in scoring position and the Rays leading 4-1. He departed after giving up a one-out single to Luis Jimenez in the sixth.
"Overall, Matt was relatively sharp," Maddon said. "He had a good curve and changeup to go with the fastball. We wanted to get him out there for the sixth inning so that at least he'd get up and down six times. Once he did that, it was a perfect spot for Roberto."
Los Angeles left-hander Jason Vargas (8-6) was charged with five runs and 10 hits in four-plus innings. Vargas, who missed almost two months because of a blood clot under his armpit, is 2-2 with a 4.33 ERA in five starts since coming off the DL.
"It just makes it a little more difficult when you're not able to be down effectively with your fastball and I just wasn't able to put anybody away," Vargas said. "It was just the inability to get the ball down late in the count and make quality pitches that got me today."
Jennings gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead, driving Vargas' second pitch of the third inning to left-center for his 12th homer this season and second RBI in 46 at-bats since coming off the DL on Aug. 19.
Vargas walked his next two batters and Delmon Young followed with a single that loaded the bases for James Loney, who came in with a major league-best .363 average on the road. Loney grounded into a 5-2-3 double play started by rookie Luis Jimenez and rookie Wil Myers struck out to end the inning.
Ben Zobrist increased the margin to 4-1 in the fourth with a two-out, two-run double in the fourth, and Vargas was replaced by Juan Gutierrez after giving up singles to his first two batters in the fifth.
"Like all of our starters, you want to give Jason an opportunity to win or lose a game if he can get to a certain point," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It certainly wasn't a pitch count issue, but it was how he was throwing the ball. We knew it was going to be a struggle for him. I think Jason made some good pitches early and then was in the heart of the plate a little bit, his changeup was up a little bit."
The Angels got their run in the second when Erick Aybar led off with a double and scored on a throwing error by second baseman Zobrist, whose relay to first on a potential inning-ending double play got past Loney. It was Zobrist's second throwing error in his last five games, following an 81-game errorless streak at that position.
NOTES: The Rays' fourth-inning rally ended a stretch of 52 innings in which they had more than two hits only once. They scored in six consecutive innings despite going 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position. ... Angels C Chris Iannetta started in the second spot in the batting order for the first time in his eight-year career, and was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk. Iannetta -- the only player in the majors with more walks (62) than hits (57) and at least 100 at-bats -- became the ninth different player manager Mike Scioscia has started in the two hole this season.
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