PORT CHARLOTTE — Alex Cobb got a stark reminder of just how much starting pitching depth the Rays have when he was summoned to a meeting room across from manager Joe Maddon's office after batting practice Monday.
Cobb, 24, had pitched extremely well for most of his nine games as a rookie last season, and he recovered fine from August surgery to remove a blood clot and part of his rib.
On other teams he would be a strong contender for a spot in the rotation, if not an incumbent member.
But the Rays have no room on the hill.
Already stocked with six top-notch candidates for five spots, the Rays sent Cobb and their two other most advanced starting prospects, Alex Torres and Chris Archer, to the minors Monday in their first cut of the spring.
"It's frustrating," Cobb said. "I told them basically it stinks to be in this organization at this time. But if I wasn't in this organization I wouldn't be the pitcher I am and I might not have had the opportunity to be the pitcher I am. So it's Catch-22."
Cobb has a bit of an edge to him, so even though he realized pretty early in spring camp he wasn't going to make the team, the demotion didn't sit well, especially since it came sooner than expected.
"It's not a total shock," he said, "but it's not exactly the time you want to be sent down."
But he is also savvy enough to understand the Rays' explanation, which is that they expect him to pitch in at some point this season, so it was better to move him to minor-league camp where he can get the requisite innings in exhibitions and be ready when needed.
"I know I'm going to be part of the (team) this year and I have two ways to go about it," Cobb said. "I could either be p---ed off and sulk about it and feel bad about myself, but all that's going to hurt is myself. So I need to go out, get over it real quick, and go down there and work and get better in minor-league camp."
Maddon acknowledged the "impetuous youth about everything," but said it is definitely the right decision for Cobb, and the others, and they'll eventually see it that way. "It's kind of fruitless and unwise to keep them here not getting the proper work," he said.
Plus, Maddon said they wanted to make the moves now so the players can get over any resentment and adjust to their new reality. The days are longer on the minor-league side of the Charlotte Sports Park complex, the amenities shorter and the expense money significantly less plentiful (about $400 a week compared to $1,200).
"There's going to be a little disappointment," Maddon said. "You'd rather get them back, get them readjusted to the Triple-A lifestyle again because it is different. So we want them to go there with a really clear mind, a very focused mind."
If the Rays do need help, Maddon said he would be confident calling on Cobb. "I have a lot of faith in him," he said. "I feel very comfortable putting his name in the rotation any time. What he did for us last year in July, when we went to the six-man (rotation) was invaluable to us."
Cobb said he felt last year he had done well enough (3-2, 3.42) to be in the majors this season. But that opportunity faded during the winter when the Rays were able to boost their offense without trading any of their starters, as had been expected, and when they signed Matt Moore to a long-term deal, removing any financial incentive to start him in the minors.
And it didn't take long once Cobb got to spring training for him to realize there wasn't going to be a spot for him. "You kind of know in the back of your mind we have seven guys and those numbers don't fit, so you're going to be the odd man out," he said.
Hearing the Rays say they expect him back eventually was somewhat reassuring, Cobb said. For now, with Torres and Archer headed to the same place, he joked that he has a bigger challenge ahead of him:
"I'm just working on making that Durham rotation now."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.