Alex Cobb could finally relax. The 25 year right-handed entered spring training this year with a spot in the Rays’ rotation all but nailed down for the first time and the question was simple: how would he react? At this time last year, Cobb made his second spring training appearance and managed just a 2-2 strikeout to walk ratio in 3 innings, causing the Rays to send him down to minor league camp despite his strong performance in the major leagues the year before. Would 2013 be any different or would the Rays have to reconsider handing him a rotation spot? On Saturday, Cobb proved that he had indeed broken through, delivering exactly the type of dominance the Rays know Cobb is capable every time he heads to the mound.
Orioles hitters didn’t stand a chance against Cobb on Saturday as he went 3 innings allowing just 1 hit, striking out 5 while walking none and recording his other 4 outs on the ground. Ryan Flaherty doubled off Cobb with 1 out in the first inning, but Cobb stranded him at third base and that was all he allowed. He struck out the side in the 2nd while striking out 2 more in the 3rd to finish his outing. All in all, Cobb threw 26 of his 36 pitches were strikes and looked entirely locked in, putting it all together for the best performance of any Rays pitcher this spring. Cobb was on a mission on the mound and with a rotation spot already in his back pocket, he was able to simply relax and remind Rays fans just how good he is.
Fernando Rodney followed Cobb with a strong inning of his own, tossing a perfect frame with a strikeout, and then the bats stole the show in the 4th inning. After Evan Longoria walked to begin the inning, Yunel Escobar drilled an opposite-field 2-run homer off of Brian Matusz to give the Rays a 2-0 lead, and then Ryan Roberts followed with a homer of his own to make it 3-0. Then an inning later, Sean Rodriguez came through with yet another home run off of Tommy Hunter to make it 4-0 Rays. Escobar was the offensive MVP for the Rays, going 2 for 3 with his 2-run shot, but it can’t be understated what Rodriguez did as he went 1 for 3 with his homer despite playing centerfield, a position he has started at a grand total of 4 games in his major league career. Rodriguez appears to have played himself out of regular playing time for the Rays, but his versatility remains a key asset to the team, and if he hits, the Rays will find him time on the diamond.
Other notable performances in the game included Ben Zobrist, who went 2 for 3 in his final tuneup game for the Rays before heading to the World Baseball Classic, and Alex Torres, who continued his comeback from his horrendous 2012 season by going 2 innings allowing 2 hits but striking out 2 while walking none. The final in the game wound up being 4-1 as the Rays got great pitching headlined by Cobb and made the most of their 7 hits in the game, with three leaving the yard. With Cobb setting the tone, the Rays were in control the entire game, and the result was a smooth win versus their division-rival Orioles to break a 2-game slide and improve them to 6-3 overall in Grapefruit League play.