The Tampa Bay Rays have had a huge gap in their starting rotation this season. Jeremy Hellickson went down with an elbow injury before the year even started, Matt Moore had to undergo Tommy John surgery, potential fill-in Alex Colome was hit with a 50-game suspension, and Alex Cobb was lost with an oblique strain. Because of this, the Tampa Bay Rays are just 23rd in team ERA at 4.32 and their bullpen has thrown the 4th most innings of any ‘pen in baseball. The Rays have needed help for quite some time, but they have been forced to deal with mediocre pitching for almost the entire season. Now, Cobb is close to returning, and that on top of encouraging recent starts from Jake Odorizzi and David Price might turn the Rays from cellar-dwellers into contenders once again.
Cobb has been throwing bullpen sessions and simulated games for the last couple of weeks as he works back from an oblique strain. So far he has felt no additional pain in that area, and has been focusing on building back up arm strength to return to the big league rotation. Cobb has now progressed to the point where he can begin a minor league rehab assignment, with his first appearance coming Saturday at either High-A Port Charlotte or Triple-A Durham. He will likely need 2-3 starts in order to ensure that he has been sufficiently stretched back out and also to be sure that here is no residual pain from his injury. Things are finally looking up for Cobb’s injury as he is set to return to game action.
When Cobb returns to the rotation, it will be an instant boost. Presumably he will replace one of Cesar Ramos or Erik Bedard, though Odorizzi is a slight possibility as well, especially if he has a poor start on Wednesday night. Regardless of who he replaces, Cobb is a significant upgrade. He truly established himself last season when he put up a 2.76 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9 while averaging just under 6.2 innings per start. The Rays are going to love having his performance back, and even if he can’t replicate an ERA in the 2.00′s, they will take a low 3.00′s ERA any day. But what the Rays are going to appreciate even more is his ability to provide length. The Rays bullpen has been exhausted the entire season, and that has significantly affected their performance. Having Cobb take the ball every fifth day is not only going to be a boost to the starting rotation, but his ability to go 6+ innings with consistency is going to give the bullpen some much-needed rest.
Alex Cobb is close to returning, and Jeremy Hellickson isn’t too far behind. The Rays have struggled mightily so far this year, but with an offense that is heating up on top of the boost that Cobb will provide, the Rays may start stringing together some wins. This team has not come close to reaching their pre-season World Series expectations, but don’t be surprised if the Rays suddenly become relevant once again with the return of Alex Cobb.