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Can Alex Cobb’s Opening Day Start Be a Turning Point?

By Robbie Knopf

It seemed clear that Alex Cobb was going to take the ball for the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day in 2015. He was the Rays’ best-performing pitcher last season, even when we count David Price, and he is the leader of the Rays’ rotation. He is clearly deserving of the Opening Day start. All of that being said, however, what Cobb has done the last two years is not nearly enough. As the Rays give Cobb this chance, they are hoping that it is the start of him truly becoming an ace.

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Alex Cobb tossed only 166.1 innings last year and that still represented his career-high in the major leagues. David Price last was coming off a season where he tossed 186.2 innings and that was still the lowest by any Rays Opening Day starter since Scott Kazmir in 2007. Cobb fell 20 frames short of even that. Out of the 18 Rays Opening Day starters counting Cobb, only Kazmir in ’07, Dewon Brazelton in 2005, and Wilson Alvarez in 1998 tossed less than 185 innings the year before their nod.

We know how good Cobb when he is on the mound, and our expectations for him have gotten higher after each year. In 2011, his performance was fluky and we didn’t know what to think. The following season, he pitched well and it looked like the Rays would have themselves a strong mid-rotation starter. In 2013, however, Cobb showed us that he could be dominant on a consistent basis and 2014 made it clearer that injuries were not going to stop that.

All of that is great, but Rays fans can’t be OK with an injury-prone ace. The Rays have been through it once with Scott Kazmir, and with a worse offense than ever, they can’t afford to wind up in that situation again. It is time for Cobb to show everyone that he can combine the effectiveness and bulldog mentality of Price and James Shields with the durability to match.

Alex Cobb hasn’t undergone Tommy John Surgery or any procedure other than his bizarre one to remove a rib in 2011. Instead, it has been bad luck–his 2013 concussion–and a pair of oblique strains that have prevented him from logging more innings. Cobb doesn’t have a high-effort delivery that puts stress on his arm and makes the next arm injury inevitable. Instead, some have suggested, his windup puts too much stress on his hips and puts him in a poor position to field.

Are those concerns legitimate? Is Alex Cobb going to continue driving us crazy with his combination of strong results and DL stints? By handing Cobb the ball on Opening Day, the Rays are demonstrating that they believe in his ability to stay healthy moving forward and gain the acclaim he deserves as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Cobb will be on the mound when the Rays’ season begins, and the team hopes that by the time it ends, he will have an 190-inning season under his belt.

Next: Is 2015 Finally Mike Montgomery's Year for the Rays?