OAKLAND, Calif. — RHP Alex Cobb had a few difficult moments Wednesday, none more so than when he allowed a fifth-inning homer to Brandon Inge that cut the Rays lead to 2-1 then a double to the next batter.
But Cobb, after a calming mound visit from 1B Carlos Peña, stepped up and set down the next three A's, going on to a solid seven-inning outing that continued the Rays' dazzling run of strong starts.
"I think it's kind of like hitting; it's just a contagious thing," said Cobb, who improved to 5-8, 4.60. "You see one pitcher doing good, you want to match him. You definitely don't want to be that guy, to be the weak link in the rotation."
He had nothing to worry about Wednesday, escaping a messy 25-pitch bases-loaded first and the fifth-inning tipping point. And, actually, not in his last start, either, when he allowed the Angels three runs in one inning and little else in the other six.
"That was more what he looked like last year in July when he came up to help us out," manager Joe Maddon said. "Better command of his fastball, he threw some really good curveballs, his changeup had more depth to it. … That's by far his best back-to-back (starts) to this point."
The Inge homer was the first Cobb allowed to a right-handed hitter in the majors, ending a run of 219 plate appearances.
MATSUI RELEASED: The Rays granted OF/DH Hideki Matsui's request to be released, allowing him to pursue opportunities elsewhere in the majors.
The Rays designated Matsui, 38, for assignment last week after he hit .147, with two homers and seven RBIs, in 95 at-bats over 34 games.
Rather than retire, or go back to the minors (or Japan), Matsui wanted to try to keep playing in the majors. Maddon said he thinks Matsui can, attributing part of his struggles to signing a minor-league deal May 1 and rushing though an abbreviated "spring training" before being called up May 28.
"I see him as moving well," Maddon said. "He can still play the outfield, not every day, but he can still do that. I did not see a lack of bat speed — I disagree with the scouts. I think his mechanics are messed up."
THANKS FOR COMING: RHP Josh Lueke arrived midway through Tuesday's game after his hurried callup to add a fresh arm to the bullpen and was sent back to Triple-A Durham after Wednesday's game without being needed. The Rays are expected to add a position player by Friday, with OF/C Stephen Vogt and INFs Will Rhymes and Reid Brignac among the possibilities.
MEDICAL MATTERS: Evan Longoria is set to resume his rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham tonight, having been off Tuesday and Wednesday (as the team was) after reporting soreness following Sunday and Monday games at DH.
Maddon clarified that Longoria had "general soreness," not specific to the left hamstring that has sidelined him since a partial tear on April 30.
DH Luke Scott (oblique strain) is hoping to progress to batting practice on the field this weekend, then head out for a rehab assignment he expects to last several games (5-10 at-bats).
JULY GUYS: Though July was middling overall — the Rays were 13-13 and didn't win or lose more than two in a row — the pitching was memorable: A 3.03 ERA that was best for any month in franchise history, and 241 strikeouts (in 2402/3 innings) that were the most for any team in July since 1964, when Sam McDowell's Indians fanned 264.
MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton had his first two sac bunts of the season, though on the first he was trying for a hit. … RHP James Shields pitched his seventh career shutout in Tuesday's 8-0 win, the first without allowing a runner past first. … 3B Ryan Roberts snapped an 0-for-19 streak with the first of his two hits.