Last Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays put the ball in Alex Cobb’s hand to begin their postseason journey. Tomorrow at six P.M., they will give it to him again, as they try to continue in their playoff chase. It’s the second time Cobb will be facing single-elimination, and the hope is that two more Rays’ pitchers will enjoy the same fate. They will have to, if they want to move on to the American League Championship Series.
Cobb’s a tough kid. I remember seeing him pitch in high school, and although he was obviously the best player on the field, his competitive nature still stood out. He was a winner then – even though he lost to our club that night – and he’s still a winner. Nothing fazed him that night in 2006, even though he was pitching to a third-string catcher who had a tough time putting his mitt on Cobb’s stuff. He didn’t flinch in Cleveland last week, and he won’t flinch tomorrow.
Aside from his mental toughness, Cobb brings an assortment of stuff to the mound. He owns a fine curve ball, a fastball that is roughly league average, typically at 91-92 – although he was a tick or two higher than that against the Indians – and a change-up that makes that fastball look a foot or two faster than it is. He also averages only 2.78 free passes per game, and is known to induce a groundball when needed. Just ask the Indians, who had men in scoring position on numerous occasions last week, only to see ground balls end their threats to score.
How does Cobb do it? He is fearless. And he knows how to pitch inside. He doesn’t wait around to pitch in, either. He’ll begin in the first inning, just to set up his off-speed pitches, and gain command of the outside corner. Some guys wait until it’s too late to run the ball in under the hands, and when they do, they don’t have the command to take advantage of the hitter’s fears after throwing inside. Just take a look around the league, and you’ll see great arms that don’t know how to own the outside corner by taking over the inside corner first. Heck, there are guys on every staff that struggle with pitching inside effectively.
I will tell you, I am partial to pitching inside – and I’m not talking about head-hunting or knocking people down. Years ago, I was given a grey shirt with the words PITCH IN TO WIN in bold black print. It was something we stressed with our staff. It worked at the JuCo level, and it works at the big league level. And Alex Cobb knows how to make it work.
So, as the Rays take to the field tomorrow night, I’ll feel comfortable with Alex Cobb taking the hill. He’s going to give it his best effort, with both heart and mind. He KNOWS how to pitch, and has the commitment to do so. This is a kid who was out for two months with concussion symptoms after being hit in the head by a line drive. He hasn’t flinched since coming back, working through and past any potential fears. Here’s hoping he keeps the Rays alive in the post-season one more time.
- I know batting average is passé now, but you need look no further than that to see how the Rays are behind the BoSox two games-to-zero in the Divisional Series. Tampa Bay is batting a cool .194 on twelve hits in sixty-two at bats. The Beantowners are crushing it, with twenty-five knocks in seventy-one at bats, for an average of .352. I can get into the whole “batting average isn’t a reliable statistic” argument later. But, more often than not, those who say that are flat-out not looking at the numbers over the history of the game.
- Wil Myers took full responsibility for the fly ball he pealed away from, only to see it become a ground rule double that kick-started the Red Sox offense Friday night. Myers will be just fine going forward. So often we hear players defer responsibility, or use some stupid line like “It is what it is.” Myers didn’t go that direction. He showed he has what it takes to become even better in the future than he was this season: he understands accountability and has a spine. So, if you’re still ready to bury him for one play, you’re wrong. He has personal qualities that will allow his talent to grow. He’s no prima donna.
- It looks like Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound for Tampa Bay on Tuesday if they stay alive Monday evening. Although Hellickson has struggled this season, he’s capable of giving an offense fits if he’s hitting his spots. Let’s hope he gets to take the ball Tuesday night.
- Numerous supposed Rays fans on Twitter are looking at everything from as negative possible angle as possible. I’d like to ask them how bad this team really is. I mean, come on. Many didn’t think the Rays would survive without James Shields grittiness and professionalism. Would they have had Tampa Bay even IN the playoffs if they knew how many starts they were to lose from David Price, Matt Moore, and Cobb before the season started? How about Luke Scott being banged up all year? Or Desmond Jennings experiencing health issues? Or the fact that Evan Longoria would have to play through nagging plantar fasciitis for the better part of the season? Most of them wouldn’t have had Tampa Bay playing .500 ball. But look where the Rays are: back in major league baseball’s annual tournament. I’d say that’s a pretty good season. Click for an mlb.com interview with Rays president Matt Silverman.