ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb made it clear all spring that he was ready, willing and especially able to help fill the void left by the trade of James Shields and keep the Rays rotation at an elite level.
Saturday, he got off to a pretty good start.
Cobb pitched impressively into the eighth, allowing only four hits, as the Rays blanked the Indians 6-0 before a loud 32,217 at Tropicana Field, recording back-to-back shutouts for the just the second time since 2008 and sixth in franchise history.
"I totally believe he wants to be that guy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "And he showed that tonight."
The game was marked by Cobb's sharp pitching, Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer's wildness in walking the first four, and seven in three innings, and the Rays offense overcoming its early inefficiency, led by Kelly Johnson's two-run homer.
But it was the mark on Evan Longoria's backside, after being hit by Cody Allen to open the seventh, that could be most relevant in today's series finale.
Maddon said the consensus among the Rays (3-2) was that Longoria was hit in direct retaliation for a third-inning play when Desmond Jennings plowed over Cleveland catcher Lou Marson, who held on to the ball for the out.
And, though making a point to absolve Indians manager Terry Francona "unequivocably" of blame, Maddon didn't like it.
"The concern they should have over there is that that's how you get players hurt on your team," Maddon said. "For me, it had to come from one of their players, and I would absolutely point to their bullpen. That was pretty specific, I think."
Maddon, Jennings, Francona and, most relevantly, Marson all said it was a good baseball play and a clean play. "Absolutely," Marson said. "He had nowhere to go."
The Rays hitters didn't do much to take advantage of the electric and eccentric Bauer's inability to throw strikes. They got only one run when Bauer walked the first four batters, and none when he put three on in the third, and didn't have a hit until the fourth.
Wasting so many early chances made for an uneasy feeling.
"It's not fun," said Johnson, whose eventful night also included his first start in leftfield. "It felt like it should have been about 6-0."
It got there eventually, though they left 12 on for the night and were 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position. After Johnson's homer, the Rays got an RBI single from Shelley Duncan (after either a crafty slide by Yunel Escobar or a missed call by second-base ump C.B. Bucknor) and a two-run double by James Loney.
There is an intense internal competition among the Rays starters, so Cobb — who struck out six and threw 103 pitches — naturally wanted to outdo Matt Moore, who went six innings Friday.
But his true goal is to be compared to Shields, the veteran leader who was traded to Kansas City.
"I'm not going to be David Price, I'm not going to be Matt, I'm not going to throw 97 (mph)," Cobb said. "I can be Shields. I can do what he did. I can attack hitters, I can go 200 innings. I saw the way he went about getting to that point. I know I can do that. And I want to do that. …
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"If you can walk away after the end of the year and have Shields' reputation of the way he handled things, it would be a successful season."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org