PORT CHARLOTTE — Alex Cobb was feeling on top of the mornin' when he pulled up to Clearwater's Bright House Field last St. Patrick's Day.
He'd already been named the Rays' opening day starter. His agents were in talks with the team about a long-term contract that would set him up for life, and then some. The approaching regular season would give him the chance to show he was indeed a No. 1 starter.
"A lot of good things were happening," Cobb said.
Except for the discomfort in his right elbow he had felt a few days earlier becoming enough of an issue to force him from that day's game after three perfect innings.
But after a promising initial diagnosis, several weeks of rest, an injection of platelet-rich plasma and a rehab throwing program, Cobb ended up on an operating table in mid May, having a tear repaired with Tommy John surgery that will sideline him until at least late July.
Cobb admitted he will never know what would have happened if hadn't taken the mound a year ago, but he said this week he can't live with any regrets.
"I learned from it, how about that?" Cobb said. "I learned that I need to listen to myself better. My arm was telling me not to throw that day, but I pushed through it. You could think that way, but you could also argue that maybe I already had a partial tear and it was just going to prolong the inevitable eventually. So maybe it turned out better, just doing it and getting it done with."
Cobb's rehab thus far has gone well, with a scheduled two-week break from throwing coming to an end and his first walk up the hill to throw off the mound coming soon.
"It went by quick, I'm not going to lie," Cobb said. "I think the right answer is to say it dragged by, but honestly, it went by pretty quick. And I anticipate the next five months going quicker because I'm going to be throwing off the mound, I'm going to be traveling a lot to rehab starts, stuff like that. So hopefully the All-Star break will be here before I know it."
Though it is way too early for the always cautious Rays to set a return date, Cobb is looking at the July 11-14 break as a good mile marker. Plus, Cobb figures that since teammate Matt Moore had his surgery about three weeks earlier the previous year and returned the following July 2, he should be ready before the calendar flips to August.
"It's not my target, but it's pretty close," Cobb said. "You'll really be able to have a good gauge on what the path will look like."
Moore has provided good counsel to Cobb, and a good cautionary tale for patience, as he struggled when he initially came back, and it wasn't until after six rough starts then a month-long demotion to Triple A that he returned to form in a solid September. Plus, Cobb is working daily with three other Tommy John rehabbers in Jonny Venters, Neil Wagner and Chase Whitley, so there are plenty of answers to his questions.
Cobb initially was diagnosed with tendinitis then after he didn't respond to the various treatment programs — and the fear of a more serious injury and an extended absence grew — he was further evaluated, and the tear was found. That eventually led to surgery nearly two months later.
"Knowing what I know now, I still wouldn't have changed what I did," he said. "We gave it a great effort. There's been guys (such as Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka) who have been told they have a partially torn (elbow ligament) and they're able to continue pitching. So we tried it and it didn't work."
As much work as he has done — including going to Arizona for seven-plus months to rehab at a private clinic, which he said broke up the monotony of going to the Trop every morning -—Cobb knows what is still ahead.
And, having come back previously from an oblique strain, a concussion (after being hit in the head by a ball) and thoracic outlet surgery that disrupted his previous three seasons, Cobb can barely wait.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.