Alex Cobb pitched badly in Monday's 8-0 loss to the Royals. So badly, that the only good thing was that he pitched the whole game, sparing the Rays' already shorthanded bullpen any further damage.
Cobb allowed 13 hits, one off the team record, as the Rays (40-33) quickly squandered any momentum they may have generated from Sunday's day-night doubleheader sweep of the Phillies. Compounding their woes, the offense couldn't do much of anything against Royals starter Luke Hochevar, who threw his second career shutout.
Cobb, whose start was pushed back two days after Friday's rainout and the subsequent shuffling, didn't make any excuses for the worst outing of his 129-game pro career. He said he felt good in the bullpen and bad once he got to the mound.
"The first few innings I just really felt uncomfortable out there," Cobb said. "It's my job to stay sharp and stay on top of things, and I just wasn't (Monday). Whether I didn't prepare good enough this week or stay as sharp as I need to, there's really no excuse to feel uncomfortable out there."
Cobb was coming off one of the best starts of his career, seven two-hit, no-run innings against the Marlins. But it didn't take long - specifically the 10-batter, seven-hit, five-run third inning - to realize it wasn't going to be the same.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey noticed that Cobb's arm slot was unusually low. Manager Joe Maddon thought his biggest issue was a lack of fastball command. Either way, it was a problem. He was the first pitcher to give up 13 or more hits and at least eight runs in a complete game since knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for Boston in 1996.
Knowing the Rays needed him to work deep into the game after using four relievers in Sunday night's win, Cobb said he changed his approach after the third, trying to pitch to contact and get quick outs.
Maddon was so determined to save the pen, he had infielder Will Rhymes "secretly" warming up in the batting cage to take over on the mound in the eighth.
"They asked me if I was comfortable with that; I was like, yeah, but I don't know if I can throw a strike, I haven't pitched since I was 12," Rhymes said. "I was pounding the zone in the cage. ... Looking back on it, I'm glad it didn't have to happen, but it would have been a cool experience."
But Cobb managed to finish the game, with 113 pitches, and for that, Maddon said, he should be lauded.
"The fact that he saved the bullpen was outstanding," Maddon said. "The average fan may not understand exactly what he did (Monday) - it's heroic in a baseball sense. Because he gave up those five runs, they had a big lead, he did not cave in, he kept making pitches, he stayed on the mound. He preserved everybody else which preserves the integrity of the whole group for days. So in a baseball sense, that was an outstanding performance by Cobber tonight."
Maddon insisted the game easily could have been different, had Hideki Matsui, his average down to .159, not grounded into a rally-killing double play after the Rays got two on in the first, and had not every ball the Royals hit seem to drop in, including two that rightfielder Ben Zobrist couldn't get to in the first.
After the long Sunday in Philadelphia, a late-night arrival, oppressive heat (and faulty hotel air conditioning) in Kansas City, and a shorthanded roster, Maddon was not upset. "I'm proud of our guys, believe me," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.