GWINNETT, Ga. -- Rays left-hander Matt Moore knew the road to recovery would be unfamiliar. After missing a month with a sore left elbow -- his first career trip to the disabled list due to an arm problem -- the 23-year-old made a rehab start with Triple-A Durham on Thursday night ahead of his projected return to the Tampa Bay rotation during next week's series against the Angels.
Moore, who allowed four runs on eight hits in four innings in a 7-6 victory over Gwinnett, was encouraged by the way his arm felt and by his comfort level on the mound in his first live action since the injury.
"Between pitches, I was thinking, 'What do I have to do with this pitch to make it not do what that last one did?' Those in-pitch adjustments," Moore said. "When my arm wasn't feeling right, I wasn't thinking about what I was doing in-pitch. I was thinking about how not to make it hurt and different things just to kind of try to stay away from that particular signal."
Moore (14-3, 3.41) threw 74 pitches, 43 for strikes, and endured his share of bad luck in the form of two infield singles by Gwinnett's speedy leadoff man Jose Constanza and a bloop single to right field off the bat of Todd Cunningham. His concerted effort to attack the inner half of the plate backfired when several inside offerings ran back over the middle, leading to consecutive sharply hit balls -- a ground-rule double and a line-drive single to left -- that pushed across three Gwinnett runs in the first inning. Back-to-back doubles in the fourth from Constanza and Sean Kazmar accounted for the Braves' other run off Moore.
"When things are going well, I think I'm able to add and subtract from pitches a little bit better, I can throw a breaking ball for a strike and I can throw a breaking ball for a chase pitch," Moore said. "The timing and the rhythm of that isn't quite there, but it's one of those things that takes repetitions in the game and with the competition up to bat to really get that feel back, to get comfortable having those thoughts about those pitches."
Moore also had to regroup after committing an unusual two-base throwing error following the two-run single by Gwinnett catcher Jose Yepez in the first. After both runs had scored, the ball was relayed back into the infield and caught by Moore, who tossed it into the dugout in anticipation of a new ball from the home-plate umpire. Time had not been called, however, and Yepez was awarded two bases on the error charged to Moore.
"Honestly, I didn't care -- there were two outs, I'm trying to get the guy at the plate," Moore said. "I just tried to ask him, 'What was the call? What's the call, period?' Because I hadn't ever seen that before. He didn't explain it to me, but I guess somebody else knew what went on. It was a little weird."
Moore responded with an inning-ending three-pitch strikeout of designated hitter Joe Leonard, capped off by a 95-mph fastball. He hit 96 mph once in the next inning, but mostly stayed in the low-90s while mixing in plenty of changeups to reestablish his confidence in the pitch that had first brought on the discomfort.
The month away from the field allowed Moore to assess the way he takes care of his body, a process that rarely drew criticism when he opened the 2013 season 8-0 with a 2.29 ERA on the way to earning his first All-Star selection. Moore had won six consecutive starts with an ERA of 1.50 since mid-June before he felt discomfort in his elbow during his July 28 start against the Yankees.
"What goes into each day's preparation now to get my arm ready to throw is nothing like it was before," Moore said. "I think maybe I took for granted my youth a little bit. There's things that I just didn't have to do to warm my arm up because it felt good when I'd get out there. I'd do a few calisthenics, a few warmup stretches and then I'm good to go, whereas now we're working with a hot spot in my elbow. We're really trying to make sure that each time I go out there that we've had enough treatment and enough of those things that are going to get me to a good spot when I'm playing catch, when I'm actually getting into it."
Moore planned to fly to Oakland to rejoin his teammates, who are locked in a hotly-contested American League East race and need consistent contributions from the leaders of their rotation, a challenge Moore is eager to meet. Barring an unforeseen bout of soreness on Friday, he will take up the Rays' playoff push with a start in Anaheim next week.
"It makes you miss the game a lot, seeing guys out there," Moore said. "I've been very fortunate that while I've been down, we've not really skipped a beat with [Chris Archer] doing his thing and [Alex Cobb] coming back from his injury. It makes it much easier to watch when you've got a Cy Young on the mound and those two guys to follow him. It definitely makes you want to get back quicker rather than later."
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.