When the Rays’ pitchers are at their best, you just get them a couple of runs and you’re set for a smooth victory. This game got a little bit rocky at the end, but for seven innings Alex Cobb and Chris Archer gave the Rays exactly the type of pitching performance the Rays are hoping to see quite often in 2013 and Pirates hitters were in serious trouble.
Cobb allowed a single and a stolen base to Josh Harrison in the third inning. That was it. Cobb showed once again exactly why the Rays are counting on him for big things this season, going 4 innings allowing just that one hit, striking out 5 while walking none and allowing a grand total of two balls to be hit out of the infield. 35 of his 51 pitches were strikes as he was locked in his entire outing, and the Rays knows that Cobb has the ability to blow by hitters like this on any given outing. Cobb was working on his cutter, a pitch he didn’t really throw at all in 2012, and while Joe Maddon expressed concern after the game that Cobb might fall in love with it too much and it could detract from his other pitches, the early results were good. After seeing Cobb go out and dominate two outing in a row, it’s time to start getting excited for just how he can be in 2013, and when this guy is lined up to be your 4th starter, you’re in pretty good shape as a starting rotation.
Chris Archer followed Cobb and didn’t have his best control, walking two batters in the 6th inning on what he called an “eight-pitch mental lapse” but he was able to escape trouble by forcing a really good player Andrew McCutchen to ground out and that was the only rough spot in his outing as he went 3 hitless innings, striking out 3 while walking 2. Between Cobb and Archer, the Pirates had just 1 hit through 7 innings. Archer’s control continues to be the concern for him moving forward, but his stuff was great once again on Thursday as he combined his mid-90’s fastball and dynamic slider with a good changeup, and with more work he has the ability to be a really good major league starting pitcher. That happening to begin 2013, though, appears to be a longshot at this point.
It was in Archer’s final inning that the Rays finally came through against Pirates pitching, scoring 4 runs in the 7th on an error, RBI singles by Mike Fontenot and Leslie Anderson, and then a big inning from Tim Beckham, who knocked in Fontenot with an RBI double before stealing third base and scoring on Anderson’s bloop single. Beckham is really starting to open some eyes at the plate, and while he’s a while away from doing that consistently in the major leagues, he still has quite a bit of potential.
Jake Odorizzi entered in the 8th inning for the Rays and continued the Rays’ strong pitching, striking out 2 working around a hit in the inning, but he struggled in the 9th, allowing a single, a walk, and a 2-run double by Russell Martin before he could record the final out of the game. Odorizzi’s stuff was really good, but his big issue right now is fastball command, as Joe Maddon talked about after the game. He throws strikes but leaves too many pitches up in the zone, and major league hitters like Martin will take advantage of that. Odorizzi wound up going 2 innings allowing 2 runs on 3 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1. He’s another pitcher with the ability to be a strong major league starter in not so long, but improving his command will be the key.
Thursday’s game was another great game for the Rays as Cobb was unhittable, Archer had that one rough stretch but persevered around it to have a nice outing, the Rays offense came through in the 7th, and even Odorizzi was really good in the 8th before he had some struggles in the 9th. The Rays are just half a game back of the Orioles for first place in the Grapefruit League, but more importantly, teams are starting to get scared thinking about just how good the Rays’ pitching staff will be, and a great year could be ahead for this Rays team.