ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Alex Cobb has been called up to make his second big-league start tonight, and both he and the Rays expect it to be much different than his first.
For one, Cobb, 23, won't have to battle the nervousness of his May 1 debut against the Angels, when he lasted just 41/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits.
"Last time, the fact of it being your first outing, you're not able to sleep, your adrenaline is going from the second you get the call,'' Cobb said after Monday's game. "Now I'm a lot more calm, I actually can't wait to go to bed, I'm exhausted right now.''
For another, he and the Rays are confident he has corrected a flaw in his delivery that had him tipping his pitches — basically letting the Angels know what type of pitch was coming by how he held his glove.
"We've really beared down on it, people have watched him very closely and we're pretty confident that it's been rectified,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "I'd like to see him on a level playing field and see how he does.''
Said Cobb: "I think we've got that all behind us.''
To make room, the Rays optioned RHP Brandon Gomes back to Triple A.
Gomes didn't necessarily earn the demotion, having posted a 3.09 ERA over 10 games in his first big-league stint, but was most disposable, since he could be optioned. (RHP Adam Russell, another candidate, is out of options and could be lost on waivers.)
"Like his makeup, like his aggressiveness, like the pitches that he does throw,'' Maddon said. "I think he's going to be a very good major-league reliever.''
NIEMANN READY: RHP Jeff Niemann looked good and felt great during a 45-pitch, three-inning simulated game and appears set to head out on a three-start rehab assignment that should have him back in the rotation by mid June.
"We were going full-bore and everything felt great,'' Niemann said. "I think we're ready to take the next step.''
Maddon raved about what he saw when Niemann, out since May 4 with a lower back strain, began warming up in the bullpen. "I liked it a lot out there,'' Maddon said. "It was like a normal workout for him in the middle of the season. … Everything was good. It was really very encouraging.''
Specifics of the rehab assignment were not set, but Niemann expects to make one start for Class A Charlotte and two for Triple-A Durham. Maddon said they will set the dates based on when they plan to slot Niemann into the rotation and work backward.
CASEY OUT: 1B Casey Kotchman didn't play Monday and isn't expected to be in the lineup tonight due to a sprained and swollen right ankle, but from what head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield told Maddon he shouldn't require a trip to the disabled list. "Ronnie said sore, but not bad, not horrible,'' Maddon said.
ON THE DEFENSIVE: SS Sean Rodriguez tied an ignominious team record by making three errors, two on throws and the third on a ground ball. The crew he joins includes INFs Kevin Stocker (2002), Jason Smith (2002), Alex Gonzalez (2005) and Josh Wilson (2007) and C Dioner Navarro (2009).
MISCELLANY: DH Johnny Damon extended his streak of reaching base to 24 games, the second longest active streak in the majors behind Florida's Logan Morrison (31). … The Rays dropped to 3-8 on Memorial Day. … 2B/RF Ben Zobrist will visit Kaleb Gates' second-grade class today at Skyview Elementary for the Take Zobrist to School promotion. … CF B.J. Upton is 1-for-17 with the bases loaded the past two seasons, with seven walks. … 3B Evan Longoria batted leadoff for a third straight game, going 1-for-4 with a walk.