ST. PETERSBURG — The chatter in the Rays' dugout as Sunday's game wore on was that the new Alex Cobb looked an awful lot like the old Alex Cobb.
Cobb threw strikes, worked ahead in the count, got batters to hit what he wanted them to hit.
He looked very 2013-ish.
"That's as close to what we've all talked about," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Cobb did pitch well enough to win against the Blue Jays, allowing just two runs on four hits over eight innings. The problem was that five Toronto relievers — including Joe Biagini, who came out of the bullpen for a spot start — were just as efficient.
Pitching without the safety net known as run support, Cobb made a mistake in the eighth and paid for it when Darwin Barney lifted an inside fastball that leaked back over the plate for a back-breaking home run in the Jays' 2-1 victory.
"It's kind of a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword kind of day," Cobb said.
The sword was the fastball in on the right-handers.
"I was trying to get that weak contact, that ball on the ground," Cobb said. "It got me a double play, but eventually they caught on to it."
That pitch twice caught too much of the plate. The first time was in the sixth when Russell Martin singled home Kevin Pillar to make it a 1-1 game. The second was Barney's home run.
"We probably shouldn't be talking about that pitch too much simply if we're able to get some runs across the board," Cash said.
Cobb had his best start for the Rays (16-17) since returning in September from Tommy John surgery, throwing an economical 92 pitches.
"The fastball-curveball combination, just attacking the strike zone, that's how you draw it up," Cash said. "It's not an easy thing to do, but that's ideally what you want all your pitchers to do, just stay in the zone and attack, attack, attack."
Cobb threw a first-pitch strike to 22 of the 30 batters he faced. Five times he retired a batter on the first pitch.
"That's the goal," he said. "Go up there and try to get guys out on three pitches or less."
It was Cobb's longest start since July 29, 2014, against Milwaukee. He has pitched at least six innings in consecutive starts and has allowed two or fewer runs in three straight, with a 15-inning scoreless streak bridging the three.
And he's still searching for his best pitch, the changeup, which has made an infrequent appearance since his return from surgery.
On Sunday, Cobb stymied the Jays with a mostly fastball-curveball combination. He said he's happy with the angle in which he can now throw pitches. He likes how he can move his fastball around the strike zone.
"Obviously, (I) would like the changeup to be there a little bit more, but it did induce some ground balls over the course of the day," Cobb said. "Learning how to pitch with those two pitches right now is getting a little bit better each time out. Hopefully I'll be able to pitch with that third one next time out."
Cobb's six shutout innings at Miami in his previous start boosted his confidence heading into Sunday's outing. Now, Sunday's outing will beget more confidence when he takes the mound Friday in Boston.
"It takes some pressure off knowing I can do what I'm doing with what I have, so I can go out there and not be any less aggressive than I normally would be with all the pitches," Cobb said. "It'll get there. It's going to slowly happen over time. Each time out it's been better and better and better. That's all I can ask for at this time."