KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After his previous start Monday at home against the Yankees, Alex Cobb lingered around his locker in case pitching coach Jim Hickey was looking for him with news he was headed back to Triple-A Durham.
Sunday, Cobb had no such concerns.
Not after working seven strong innings — stopped only by a small blister on his right index finger — to lead the Rays to a sweep-avoiding 5-0 win over the Royals.
"I wasn't sitting around too much this time," Cobb said. "I feel a lot better right now."
That seemed to be the feeling throughout the clubhouse as the Rays headed off to the West Coast, their postseason possibilities and trade-deadline availabilities in the balance, reaching the 100-game mark at 53-47, still 6½ games behind the wild-card-leading Yankees and 9½ from the first-place Red Sox in the AL East.
"We have a good run left in us," ever-hopeful manager Joe Maddon said.
The biggest issue in doing so is becoming more productive offensively. And though Sunday's scorecard was marked with their usual wasted opportunities, they found ways — some creative — to score as many as five for the first time in more than a week.
Evan Longoria — who struck out a career high-matching four times — singled with two on in the third to deliver the first run, and Casey Kotchman the second with a sac fly. They were more resourceful after loading the bases (on a single and two hit batters) in the sixth — having failed to score even once in their past six such opportunities — with Johnny Damon drawing a walk from reliever Blake Wood to force in one, then Ben Zobrist getting hit by a pitch for another.
"We finally figured out to accept our walks, and get in the way," Maddon joked. "It's got to start somewhere. These things normally are cyclical."
Cobb (3-0, 2.57) was in a position to work into the eighth and had his sights on a complete game, until the blister surfaced as he warmed up for the seventh. "A big disappointment," he said.
Cobb, 23, has had similar problems in the minors before in humid weather and missed a couple of starts, but with his next start not until Saturday in Seattle, he expects to be fine.
The Rays hope so; several infielders told Maddon that Cobb should come out so he'd be ready for his next start. He allowed only six singles and got out of the only trouble he had, working quickly and confidently. "No panic," Maddon said. "The composure was fabulous."
Said Longoria: "He's kind of the new Jeremy Hellickson."
Cobb, who hadn't pitched above Double A before this season, has now made seven starts — over three stints with the Rays — without taking a loss, the first AL pitcher (with no relief outings in between) to do so since Minnesota's Kevin Slowey in 2007.
Cobb's uncertainty over his status, despite his solid outing against the Yankees, was due to Wade Davis' pending return from the disabled list. But the Rays were willing to adjust, making the unconventional decision to go to a six-man rotation, allowing them to better limit the innings worked by Hellickson and others, and to let Cobb keep starting.
"This is why we went six-man," Maddon said. "You saw it today. This is the exact reason. … You can't do it unless you have a pitcher that is that effective and big-league ready like Alex is.
"So there's no tapping on the shoulder."