PORT CHARLOTTE -- Matt Moore called it a step forward.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon was a little more generous, saying he saw glimpses of a 20-game winner in his left-hander, who was on a personal mission of redemption.
The last time Moore took the mound, it was a forgettable experience.
The first seven Pittsburgh Pirates reached base, and he didn't make it out of the first inning despite throwing 41 pitches last Saturday.
This time, Moore wasn't perfect, but a lot better.
He went 3 1/3 innings and allowed two hits and three walks with three strikeouts in the Rays' 4-1 victory over the Pirates on Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park.
While it was a better outing, he still was off target, throwing just 34 strikes in 69 pitches. He walked the first two batters in the fourth and was pulled two batters later.
"Those walks, especially to (Andrew) McCutchen and (Neil) Walker, were
bad at-bats and kind of what it looked like the last time out," Moore said. "It was a step forward; that's the best way to describe it. I think it was pretty hard to have a negative after last time. Keeping them off the scoreboard was a nice challenge."
Maddon was impressed with Moore's curveball and consistency and liked the way he bounced back from the previous start.
"With him, it's about repetition of his delivery. You could see how good the stuff was and his ball was alive at the plate," Maddon said. "When he has fastball command and has his changeup working off that, you could see why he could win 20 games."
Last Saturday's outing stuck enough in Moore's mind to give him motivation for his next start, and he was glad it was against Pittsburgh.
"I will be honest with you. It (my last start) was feeding me a little bit, especially having Pittsburgh come back here. It felt like a rematch. I was definitely looking forward to it and having a little redemption," Moore said.
The 24-year-old got his redemption -- though he admittedly was far from perfect and still needs to get a better handle on his control.
Moore is so important to a Rays team that relies heavily on pitching that even a meaningless spring training start raises some concern.
Right now, Moore is more concerned about finding his rhythm, which Maddon said was missing in his last start and mainly responsible for his struggle.
"In the beginning, I was missing low. I slowed myself down and things were a little bit more in synch and I was more in rhythm," noted Moore. "We will clean those up. It was good to get up and down four times. I was missing low, last time I was missing high.
"This time, I was able to bring up the ball and was around the knees a little bit more. I wasn't living at the knees, but it was nice to have those pitches around the knees, and (Ryan) Hanigan did a great job of freezing it right where it crosses."
Moore did hit 94 mph, but he wasn't impressed.
"That is great, but I'm not out there asking for a ton of velocity. I wanted to get a better grip on things and be strong in moments I needed to be strong," he said.
The Rays also got a strong showing out of potential closer Heath Bell, who stuck out two in 1 2/3 innings. He replaced Moore in the fourth with two runners on and got a strikeout and a ground out without allowing a run.
NOTES -- To the surprise of no one, Maddon named David Price his Opening Day starter.
The manager also said that Pittsburgh's McCutchen is possibly the best player in baseball. "If I had a vote I might vote him number one. It's really nice when you can build around the best player in baseball in center field," Maddon said.
The Rays manager also praised Pirates pitcher Bryan Morris, who threw two perfect innings with three strikeouts.