When last we saw Alex Cobb on a major league mound, it was two months ago to the day. He was struggling a bit against the Kansas City Royals, giving up four hits and three walks in four innings when he faced Eric Hosmer to lead off the fifth. At that point, disaster struck as Hosmer hit a line drive drilling Cobb in the head.
Yet, just two short months later, Cobb made his return for the Rays. He made only three rehab starts for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, for a total of 8.2 innings. Those starts were by all account a mixed bag. Cobb lasted just two pitches in the first start before a blister problem took him out of the game, and after a solid second start, he gave up three runs in his last outing for Charlotte. Any pitcher returning from the disabled list faces rust. But after the way his rehab starts had gone, Rays fans had to wonder whether Cobb would be ready in his return.
While Cobb may not have been his previously dominant self, the start was certainly a positive. His split-change, while it did not have the same movement, still had enough of a difference in velocity to be effective. It only accounted for 2 of his 6 strikeouts, but he was able to use it to force a trio of groundouts, not allowing a single hit on the pitch all day. And while his split-change was not quite at its best, his curveball was more than willing to pick up the slack. Three of Cobbs’ strikeouts came on the curveball as it featured as sharp a break as we have ever seen from it. Cobb had trouble locating it for strikes, landing it for a strike just 4 out of the 8 times he threw it on the first pitch, but its emergence as a swing-and-miss pitch far outweighs only issues controlling it early in the count. Between his split-change and cutter, Cobb was able to compensate for below-average commandof his fastball. He threw it 37 times out of his 88 pitches (42.0%), right around how much he usually throws it, and threw it for a strike 23 of 37 times (62.1%), but he kept leaving it up in the zone, allowing the Raul Ibanez home run and three other flyballs while forcing just one groundball. But it was a sign of Cobb’s maturity as a pitcher that he was able to battle through his issues with his fastball to still give the Rays five strong innings and make his first outing back a success.
Overall, Cobb had a solid outing, giving up three hits and two walks while striking out six as he held the Mariners to one run in five innings. The Rays were hoping to get Cobb to 90 pitches and he managed to give Maddon 88 solid pitches as he works his way back into shape. Cobb’s first start was certainly encouraging, and he may have been better than the Rays could have been expected. Hopefully this is just the start of an excellent comeback for a pitcher who looked so promising early on in the season and has the ability to be that good again.