James Shields is the anchor of the Rays rotation. Whenever he loses, it has to rattle the team. The Rays had a 2-game slide going entering Saturday and their starting pitcher was Alex Cobb, who was making his first start of the season in place of the injured Jeff Niemann. The Rays needed him to come through on Saturday against the Braves. He gave the Rays everything they hoped.
After getting a double play to work out of the first inning, things started to get away from Cobb quickly in the second inning. In a 5-pitch span, Cobb allowed singles to Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, and Juan Francisco to plate the first run of the game for the Braves. The final two hits were groundball hits off of Cobb’s unique split-change (splitter/changeup). Eric Hinske then followed with a sac fly and the Braves were up 2-0 with still just 1 out in the inning. But Cobb escaped trouble by striking out Tyler Pastornicky and forcing Michael Bourn to pop out, and an inning and a half later, the Rays rewarded him with some run support.
The bottom of the second was frustrating for the Rays. After Braves starter Randall Delgado walked Carlos Pena and Luke Scott, Sean Rodriguez bunted the runners to second and third. Will Rhymes then hit a flyball to moderately deep right field. Pena tagged from third base, but Heyward got him at the plate with a perfect throw and the Rays were down 2-0 after 2 innings. But after a similar start to the third, the Rays broke through. Elliot Johnson walked to begin the inning before Chris Gimenez singled. A Ben Zobrist groundball acted like a sac bunt to advance the runners to second and third. B.J. Upton then worked a walk to load the bases with 1 out. And this time, the Rays would not come away empty handed. Delgado left a fastball up to Matt Joyce, and Joyce turned on it, slamming a flyball just to the right of dead center that cleared the wall for a grand slam. With one swing of the bat, the Rays had a 4-0 lead.
Cobb worked around a 2-out Dan Uggla double in the third and a walk and a single in the fourth. But after that, he was lights out. Cobb retired the final 10 men he faced on 3 strikeouts and 10 groundball outs to finish with 7 innings of 2-run ball, striking out 6 while walking just 2. 73 of his 113 pitches were strikes, and his groundout to flyout ratio was an outstanding 12-1 and he allowed 15 groundballs to 5 flyballs overall. Cobb could not get a single swing-and-miss on the 34 times he threw his fastball, but his split-change was dominant, getting 9 swing-and-misses out of the 44 times he threw it and forcing groundball after groundball. He gave the Rays a great outing. Cobb has an opportunity here with Niemann out for at least a month, and it’s clear that he intends to take full advantage.
Sean Rodriguez added an insurance run for the Rays with a 6th inning solo shot off Cristhian Martinez, and Joel Peralta and Fernado Rodney each pitched scoreless frames as the Rays won the game 5-2. Cobb improved to 1-0 on the season while Delgado fell to 2-4, allowing 4 runs on 3 hits in 4 innings, striking out just 2 while walking 5. Fernando Rodney earned the save for his 13th in 13 tries and it was the 100th of his career, a nice little milestone. The Rays got great pitching from Cobb and stranded just 5 runners as they scored 5 runs on just 6 hits, and that was enough to come away with their 25th win of the year against 16 losses. It was a nice win for the Rays and they look to take the series on Sunday with David Price opposing Tim Hudson.