ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Alex Cobb said there were no nerves or anxiety as he stepped on the mound Sunday to face hitters for the first time since being struck in the head with a line drive June 15.
Cobb (concussion) didn't even use a protective screen in the three-inning live batting practice session because he wanted it to be "gamelike." And though Cobb's command wasn't game-ready, he was happy with how he felt in taking a significant step in his recovery.
"It's a relief," Cobb said. "When the incident happens, you think the worst naturally. So being back out there kind of settles your nerves and you realize that you can do it again. So I'm happy."
Cobb threw 47 pitches, facing OF Sam Fuld and clubhouse manager Chris Westmoreland. He was a bit frustrated with his command early but acknowledged it might take a while to be as crisp as when he got hurt. But Cobb drew cheers from the early arriving crowd and received a celebratory leaping shoulder bump from teammates LHP David Price and RHP Jeremy Hellickson after his session was over. Cobb hopes to rejoin the rotation in early August.
"There's another guy who can make a huge difference," manager Joe Maddon said. "You talk about a nice acquisition at the trading deadline, we'll take Cobber any day of the week."
Cobb said he's pleased with how quickly he's progressing. He will throw another live batting practice Thursday in Port Charlotte and believes he will be "game-ready" in a couple of weeks. Cobb said there was no "shyness of the ball coming back to me," like the line drive from Royals 1B Eric Hosmer that struck him in the head on the same mound a month ago.
"That was one pitch that happened, and I've thrown a million other pitches, so I think the subconscious remembers the other good pitches rather than just one bad," Cobb said. "So it's not something that's going to be in my thought process when I'm on the mound, now or in the future. I'm fortunate."
FOR SHORT: SS Yunel Escobar left Sunday's 5-0 win over the Astros in the ninth with a mild right hamstring strain while beating out an infield single. Escobar said he was fine, and he expects to be ready to play Friday in Toronto after the All-Star break. Maddon said Escobar could have remained in the game if the team really needed him.
Escobar also extended his errorless streak to 52 games, matching Chris Gomez's club record from 2002, after a scoring change turned his second-inning error into a hit. "Brilliant on defense," Maddon said. "Right now, I'll take what he's doing on the offensive side, because the defense really brings us all together."
BIG BREAK: As much as 3B Evan Longoria would love to be an all-star, he said he could use the break to "recharge" after an admittedly frustrating stretch in which he has hit .136 (8-for-59) over his past 18 games.
"Obviously I've struggled," Longoria said. "I'm happy we have four days off so I can kind of refocus myself and just get back to where I need to be. I know it's going to come around. But I've been frustrated, to say the least."
Longoria hit an RBI double Sunday and has drawn 15 walks in that 18-game stretch, but he said it has been kind of "hit or miss."
Maddon isn't worried and said Longoria will have a strong second half.
"I've had some good at-bats here and there, but the majority of it has not been very good," Longoria said. "The main thing is we're winning, and that really takes a lot of frustration and a lot of the stress away from me because … that's really what it's all about."
MISCELLANY: DH Luke Scott extended his hitting streak to a season-high 10 games. … The Rays have allowed four runs or fewer in a season-high 10 consecutive games.