ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Alex Cobb hasn't had the same success he did before landing on the disabled list with an oblique strain, and Cobb thinks he has finally figured out why.
After studying video, Cobb noticed that during last month's six-run outing at Toronto, his body began to rush toward the plate to try to increase the velocity.
"Then your arm starts dragging," Cobb said, "and everything's elevated, your off-speed pitches flatten out and you give up seven runs and you're walking off the mound."
That's what happened in his most recent start, when he lasted a season-low 4⅓ innings in a loss to Seattle. His worst outing of the season was the latest part of a recent slump.
Before his injury, he allowed only four runs and 12 hits in three starts. In the four games since his return, he has surrendered 16 runs and 27 hits.
"Maybe the last start was a nice slap in the face and a wakeup call to bear down even harder and figure things out," Cobb said.
Manager Joe Maddon said Cobb's mechanical issue kept his off-speed pitches from breaking as much but that he has no concerns about Cobb bouncing back today in his start against Houston.
"This guy, he is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball," Maddon said. "He had a tough day."
MCGEE AND THE NINTH: LHP Jake McGee doesn't see his upcoming opportunities in the Rays' new closer-by-committee approach as an audition to take the spot permanently.
"It's just another inning to me," he said.
McGee has been one of the team's top pitchers — Maddon is leading his All-Star campaign — striking out 34 of the 108 batters he has faced and allowing only five runs in 31 games.
If that success means McGee gets opportunities in the ninth inning, he said he'll accept them, but he'll continue to focus on each pitch and not the end results.
"I've been pretty successful this year," McGee said, "so I don't want to change anything up."
CONFIDENT KIERMAIER: Wednesday night's highlight-reel-diving catch was just the latest big play in RF Kevin Kiermaier's brief major-league tenure. Since May 18, he leads the team with nine extra-base hits. He's tied with 3B Evan Longoria for the team lead with three home runs in that span, and Wednesday was his first game with at least two walks.
Kiermaier said the success has given him more confidence and made the former 31st-round pick believe that he belongs in the majors.
"Don't get caught up in the awe factor of playing against guys like Yadier Molina, Robinson Cano and stuff like that," Kiermaier said. "When I first got called up, it was cool. At the same time, I feel like I belong up here."
draft daze: The team signed RHP Cameron Varga. The second-round pick (No. 60 overall) was the top high school pitcher in Ohio and threw five no-hitters this year for Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. Baseball America reported that the bonus was $1.1 million, about $200,000 more than the slot value. Varga had signed with North Carolina.
MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) struggled in his second rehab start, for Triple-A Durham in Indianapolis. He gave up four earned runs and six hits in 2⅓ innings. Hellickson threw 55 pitches — including two wild ones. He's expected to make one more rehab start before rejoining the Rays this month.
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MBakerTBTimes.