Mar 7, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) warms up in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Rays Game 2 Preview: Can Alex Cobb Be an Ace?

David Price took the ball on Opening Day for the Rays and pitched as expected, allowing just 2 runs in 7.1 innings of work. Up next to pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays is Alex Cobb, and last season, he was quite a bit better than Price on the whole. Cobb went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA, striking out 134 while walking just 45 in 143.1 innings pitched. A line drive interrupted his season, but when he came back, he was even better than he was before. For stretches of the season, Cobb looked like he could join Price as a frontline pitcher. Can he really get there?

Alex Cobb’s stuff doesn’t wow anyone like Price or Matt Moore. His fastball stays in the 91-93 MPH range and is much better at getting groundballs than missing bats. Everyone knows how nasty his split-change is, but how good is his curveball really? There were times at the end of the year when his split-change wasn’t working and he resorted to his curveball as his primary pitch to miss bats. At other times, he struggled to locate it and got hit hard, and on the whole it did not force many swings-and-misses at all. Is Cobb’s curveball the third plus pitch he needs to be an ace?

The next question is going to be his health. Cobb has been in the major leagues for three seasons now–in two of them, he missed time with a bizarre injury. In 2011, it was a rib issue that ended his season, and in 2013, it was the line drive that brought it to a halt. As a result of that, Cobb has yet to top 177.2 innings in a season in his career despite how much the Rays may think of him as a workhorse. On the injury front, Cobb has never had an arm problem, so there is hope that his fluky injuries will stop. Nevertheless, Cobb needs to prove that. On the other side of things, can Cobb really approach 200 innings this year after tossing just 151.2 in 2013? If he does, will he be able to remain effective?

Alex Cobb is an extremely talented pitcher. He went from a relatively unheralded prospect before he was called up in 2011 to the Rays’ second-best pitcher now. But he enters this 2014 season with some major things to prove. Cobb has to keep perfecting his stuff to keep succeeding when hitters adapt, and he has to prove his health and ability to eat innings. Cobb’s quest to do that starts tonight, and if he does, the rest of baseball will be in trouble.

In other news, here’s the Rays’ lineup for tonight.

1. Matt Joyce, LF
2. Wil Myers, RF
3. Ben Zobrist, 2B
4. Evan Longoria, 3B
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Desmond Jennings, CF
7. Logan Forsythe, DH
8. Ryan Hanigan, C
9. Yunel Escobar, SS

David DeJesus will miss the game after getting hit by a pitch, and that leads the Rays to an interesting lineup. Joyce gets the chance to leadoff and play left field after having some success in those roles in spring training. Farther down in the lineup, Ryan Hanigan makes his season debut, and interesting to see Forsythe getting the nod over Rodriguez to replace DeJesus with the right-hander Drew Hutchinson on the mound on the mound. In any event, enjoy the game, and head back to Rays Colored Glasses afterwards for the recap.

Tags: Alex Cobb Logan Forsythe Tampa Bay Rays

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