ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb made the walk from the mound to the dugout in about 40 strides Saturday night, honored and a bit overwhelmed by the roaring ovation from the crowd. "A special feeling," he said.
His walk out of the clubhouse after the 7-4 win over the Marlins wasn't nearly as fun.
The 23-year-old rookie gave the Rays another solid start, pitching into the seventh, allowing only three hits and two runs. And in return, the Rays gave him a pat on the back and a plane ticket back to Triple-A Durham.
"This is how it has to happen sometimes," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Cobb's teammates, at least, gave him a nice parting gift, scoring in each of the first three innings to take a 4-1 lead then seven overall, matching their most for a home game this season, before a Tropicana Field crowd of 20,495.
Johnny Damon got them started with his history-making 500th double, and Casey Kotchman, Sam Fuld and Reid Brignac all had big hits. Matt Joyce delivered two sac flies, though no one hit the ball harder than Evan Longoria, who had nothing to show for it but an 0-for-4 that dropped his average to .231.
Plus they played their usual dazzling defense, with Brignac (going behind second), Kotchman (making a leaping grab) and Longoria (spearing a line drive) all lending a hand. The Rays (38-33) won back-to-back home games for the first time since mid April.
And the Marlins — showing how they've lost 17 of their last 18 — chipped in as well with a couple of errors, most generously when third baseman Greg Dobbs dropped a popup that allowed two more runs.
Cobb was the story, though, for what he did on the mound, improving to 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA in four starts since his second recall, and where he's going.
"Alex pitched really well once again," Maddon said. "Great poise, really good stuff. He's going to be a really good major-league pitcher. … He's aware that he can play here now, that he belongs here now. He's going to be able to go back and work on some specific items and then when he comes back, hopefully it will be to stay."
The Rays can't keep him now because they have to make room for Jeff Niemann to come off the disabled list and give him the chance to re-establish himself after a rocky first month (1-4, 5.74) and a lower back strain. And they apparently aren't concerned enough, at least not yet, about Wade Davis' inconsistency and inability to dominate a game, given his 6-5, 4.57 mark.
They don't want to keep Cobb in their bullpen — even as the long man in place of Andy Sonnanstine — because the infrequency of use would hurt his development and keep him from being stretched out enough if they needed him to start. "No way," Maddon said. Plus, there are some things for Cobb to improve on, such as making better use of his fastball and controlling the running game.
"It's good for us and it's good for him," Maddon said. "You always want to be six or seven deep hopefully among your starting pitching, and he goes back and gives us a solid sixth starter."
Cobb, to his credit, said all the right things, that "it was a bonus" to be up as long as he was, an "unbelievable experience" that's only going to help his career, and that he was "excited" to get the chance to make the needed adjustments in a less pressurized situation.
But, yes, he admitted after the TV lights were off, there is some disappointment, too.
"You feel like you can do this, so you want to stay up here," he said. "Hopefully my time will come soon."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]