Back on spring mound, Moore appreciative, efficient

Lefty looks like pitcher who finished 2015 strong after bumpy road back from surgery

Back on spring mound, Moore appreciative, efficient

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Matt Moore made his first start of the spring Monday in the Rays' 3-2 win over the Red Sox. And though he surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced, the Rays left-hander looked as though he's ready to pick up where he left off at the end of the 2015 season.

Moore wasn't pitching in games last spring, instead laboring in the final stages of rehab from Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Rays on July 2 to begin the first of his two stints with the team.

After going 1-3 with an 8.78 ERA in six starts, Moore was sent to Triple-A Durham to knock off the rust. He returned to the big club on Sept. 1 and went 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in six starts to finish the season on a high note.

Matt Moore on healthy spring

"I think he initially came back, he was healthy but probably wasn't as fine-tuned as he would have liked to have been," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "But to his credit, he goes down there and probably simplified his approach and the way he used his pitches. He did that and came back up and kind of continued doing that.

"It's not an easy thing to do. Try and win games and probably not being spot on location-wise for everything and still getting a feel for all of his pitches. But when he came back, everything looked really good."

Cash allowed that sending Moore down served as one of his most difficult tasks as a rookie manager in 2015.

"Yeah, there were some difficult ones, and that one was right up there at the top of the list, just because the grind that Matt Moore had put himself through to get back," Cash said. "Didn't have the success that he was normally capable of. I think that was tough on all of us. But to Matt's credit, he handled it really, really well."

On Monday, Betts hit a 1-2 Moore curveball over the left-field wall to start the Boston first inning. The home run proved to be the only blemish to Moore's line, as he retired the next six hitters he faced. Seventeen of the 23 pitches the lefty threw in his two-inning stint were strikes.

"[The outing] was all right," Moore said. "I think I was a little more amped up than I hope to be during the season. But that's expected for the first one, a little extra excitement.

"I think they were a tad bit more aggressive than I remembered in the past. ... But 23 pitches through two innings, I'll take that any day. For the first one, I'm happy with the way the ball came out."

Moore said the obvious when asked how it felt to be pitching in games this spring rather than watching the games from the sidelines.

"It feels great," Moore said. "I think that's probably the biggest reason for a smile on my face. Most of the time when I come through the door these days, I think being away from the game for that long and struggling and getting back to where I want to be at the end of last season, you know, the appreciation is, I think a lot bigger and a lot more on my end for the game. I had a lot of fun out there."

Moore felt good about putting his first spring start in the rear-view mirror.

"Wanted to get it out of the way," Moore said. "I've got another one in four days. Having that routine and being able to focus on the process, getting ready for the next one, I think is what most starting pitchers probably in Spring Training are happy about, just getting into a good routine."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.