SARASOTA — The best evidence of how well Matt Moore threw in his first appearance of the spring was the leather in catcher Jose Molina's locker.
Molina has a new glove, and after catching the first of Moore's two innings in the 7-7 tie with Baltimore, he said it was pretty much broken in.
"It's almost ready with just one outing," Molina said. "He looked awesome. There's no other way to describe it."
Moore threw 32 pitches over his 12/3 innings, striking out three and walking one, throwing his fastball 93-96 mph (with a couple 97s) and mixing in his stellar changeup and a few curveballs.
"Real impressive," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "Obviously the results were great, but what I was encouraged about was that he faced six hitters and he got ahead of all six. He used all three pitches. And, obviously, the stuff was pretty crisp."
More Molina: "He threw good, he hit the spots, he was right on target."
As important for the Rays, Moore, 22, showed no indication of lingering issues from the mild abdominal strain that kept him off the mound for eight days. Nor any reason to think he couldn't be ready, with four more spring appearances, to start the season, assuming — wink, wink — that he earns a spot in the big-league rotation.
"Physically perfect, just like I'm supposed to feel," Moore said.
Manager Joe Maddon said he wasn't really surprised, given how good Moore had looked throwing batting practice over the past week.
"Matt Moore was exceptional," Maddon said. "He looked pretty comfortable out there. I was watching those last couple little BP games on the side fields and he was throwing really well there, too. But not as sharp as I saw today. The stuff has been good, but you saw good stuff with good command, too."
Moore, who last pitched in the AL Division Series finale against Texas, said he didn't feel like he really missed any time.
"I think it went pretty good," he said. "It was a warm day so it didn't take much for me to get my body going, and I felt good. I was able to work down in the zone with all my pitches. I thought for my first one this spring that went well."
Moore's fastball is what catches your eye, especially when it pops on the board in the high 90s. But what makes him effective is the changeup, which he showed off Tuesday. "For a young kid with that kind of fastball, that's usually the last thing to come," Hickey said. "For him, it's a plus pitch right now."
Or as David Price, who's a pretty good young lefty himself, called it, the great equalizer.
"Those hitters don't see it very well," Price said. "You throw 95-97-98 like he does and you can throw that invisi-ball like that changeup, the one he has, that's pretty tough."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.