The beauty of the Rays rotation: on any given night, any starter could shut down the opposition and toss a shutout. On Thursday night, Rays fans got a special treat that you’d be hard-pressed to find in any other MLB rotation: a 5th starter shutout courtesy of Alex Cobb.
Alex Cobb’s best pitch has been and likely always will be his unique split-change, a cross between a splitter and a changeup. When Cobb’s third-best pitch for a particular outing happens to be his split-change, you know that he’s throwing the ball well. Cobb’s split-change was an effective pitch on Thursday night. But he was locating his fastball to both sides of the plate and hitters could do nothing with it. And then there was the pitch usually resigned to being Cobb’s third pitch, his curveball. Not tonight. It was sharp and befuddled hitters every time. According to Brooks Baseball, Cobb threw 28 curveballs. 21, an outstanding 75%, were strikes. 3 of those strikes came on swings and misses while 15 of them were knee-buckling called strikes. It was an incredible to watch.
Cobb was perfect through 2 before walking Josh Donaldson in the 3rd. Stephen Drew singled to begin the 4th to break up the short-lived no-hit bid. Seth Smith singled in the 5th to ensure that it wasn’t going to be a disappointing 1-hit game. More importantly in the 5th, the Rays rallied against Tyson Ross. In the inning, Jeff Keppinger led off with a single before Luke Scott doubled. Ryan Roberts followed with a sac fly to make it 1-0 Rays. Jose Molina then walked to give the Rays 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Before the inning was over, Sam Fuld laced an RBI single, Matthew Joyce drilled a 2-run double, and Evan Longoria came up with an RBI single of his own to make it 5-0 Rays. It was the 7th time in 8 games that the Rays scored 5 or more runs, and it would be plenty of support for Cobb.
Drew was the one Oakland Athletic that made it hard for Cobb. Drew doubled with 2 outs in the 6th before Cobb stranded him. Up to that point in the game, Cobb had thrown just 79 pitches. Cobb tossed an 7-pitch 7th before allowing another 2-out hit in the 8th, a Cliff Pennington single, and getting Coco Crisp to pop out on his 101st pitch to put him 3 outs away from a shutout. But in his way once again was Drew. Cobb fell behind 3-0 to Drew before coming back to 3-2 but then walked him to give the A’s a baserunner. Kyle Farnsworth began warming up in the Rays bullpen. But Cobb was not going to let his opportunity for a shutout slip away. Cobb started Josh Reddick with another knee-buckling curve. Then Cobb came back with another curve and Reddick grounded it to first base to start a 3-6-1 double play. Cobb froze Yoennis Cespedes on a fastball to end the game as the Rays won 5-0.
Cobb (8-8) nailed down his shutout, going all 9 innings allowing just 4 hits, striking out 8 while walking 2. Ross (2-9) took the loss. Cobb was in control his entire outing and came back in a huge way from his debacle in his previous start. The irony for Cobb is that he now has two complete games in his major league career: his start on June 25th in which he allowed 8 runs but tossed the 8-inning complete game as the Rays bullpen was shot following a doubleheader against the Phillies, and now this start on the exact opposite edge of the spectrum, a shutout. The nice thing is that Cobb took one for the team in that June 25th game, sparing the bullpen in that 8-0 loss, and his reward was this outing, his shining achievement so far as a major leaguer. The Rays hope for another great start to go along with more good offense as Matt Moore for the Rays takes on Jarrod Parker of the A’s at 7:10 PM on Friday night .