By ALAN DELL
BRADENTON -- Matt Moore is a comforter for Tampa Bays Rays manager Joe Maddon and the team's brass.
He and others like him allow Maddon to do the thing he loves the most, find players who never got a second look.
With the Rays' outfield in flux due to injuries to starting centerfielder B.J. Upton and super-sub Sam Fuld, and Desmond Jennings not yet 100 percent, Maddon appreciates a guy like Moore. He can spend more time concentrating on guys who have spent their entire baseball lives in the trenches and never had a medal pinned on their chest.
He feels a kinship to those forgotten soldiers.
"I was not the prodigy coming out of whatever and I identify with those guys. I've always had a soft spot for the guy who works extra hard to get where he is at," Maddon says.
The manager sees things others don't. He can feel the heartbeat of a player and at this level that is often the difference between serviceable guys and those who should be sent back to the manufacturer.
Few take a look at all those borderline cases more intensely than Maddon.
"I do look at these guys more closely. I do pay more attention to their work ethic and makeup and how they react to moments and situations," Maddon said. "It's easy to break down the superstar kind of guys. You've got
to look hard at the other guys and find out what those guys are capable of doing."
It's guys like 13-year minor-league veteran Jesus Feliciano who win a special place in Maddon's heart, though he would be discarded like a day-old newspaper in New York or Boston.
"Feliciano is a very good professional. He plays the game properly and is ready every day. There is not anything he isn't willing to do and I appreciate a player like that." Maddon said.
With the season opener April 6, Maddon is not concerned about a spring training season that hasn't produced much offense following a 2011 season that didn't produce much.
"I think we are playing good baseball and if there is one component of the game that I would rather be struggling with it is hitting because that's going to be fine," Maddon said. "If at any time we are struggling with pitching and defense, that would set off some alarms for me."
Moore got into spring training late because of an injury and came into Friday's game against the Pirates with only four Grapefruit League innings under his belt that gave him a misleading 9.00 ERA.
But the Rays know there is nothing misleading about the lefty, which is why they named him a starter earlier in the week while dropping Wade Davis out of the rotation.
There is not a large body of work on Moore except his success last year when he was brought up in September and defied the laws of logic.
No one would have blamed Maddon and the Rays organization for sending him down to the minors, but this organization has proven it can spot talent and to them Moore was an easy call.
Maddon has said no one reaches the baseball limelight by accident. There has to be talent, but there also has to be mental toughness and a work ethic that is extraordinary.
You can't be afraid of success or afraid of failure.
See Matt Moore, a 22-year-old with 17 days of major league experience.
"Matt was really good today. He had a really good live fastball and threw some good change-ups and curveballs. I liked everything about him. He was very composed as he normally is," Maddon said.
In his first long outing of the spring, Moore showed the Pirates why he is such a coveted prospect, allowing three hits and one run in six innings on a day he said he did not have command of his fastball.
"My fastball command when I am behind on the count is kind of what is hanging me up right now and stopping me from getting out of innings quicker than I am," Moore said. "I was happy with the four or five change-ups I threw, but I fell behind three times against (Andrew) McCutchen, and good hitters like that are going to eventually make you pay for it."
You might think getting the nod to be in the starting rotation would've taken some of the pressure off Moore. But he doesn't think in those terms. With a modest confidence, he sees himself as the rightful occupant of that spot.
"I don't know if all camp I started to think about that (being a starter). If I start to pinch myself that might be a different issue. I haven't gone there yet so I am not really sure. I know that today I was really looking forward to getting those pitches out of mind and my body," he said.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.