CLEARWATER — The tightness in Alex Cobb's right forearm that forced him from Tuesday's game has been diagnosed as tendinitis, which is relatively good news but seems likely to keep him from making his opening day start.
Cobb left Tuesday's game against the Phillies after three innings and had an MRI exam. The team is expected to provide an update this morning on his status, with the possibility he'll miss the first few weeks of the season. Chris Archer would be the likely replacement as the opening day starter.
Cobb had felt some tightness for the past few days but did not consider it more than normal spring soreness and said he felt comfortable making the start so as not to disrupt his work schedule leading to the April 6 opener.
For three innings he certainly looked fine, retiring all nine batters he faced, with his normal low 90s velocity and sharp break on his curveball and changeup.
But the tightness persisted, and Cobb left the game, becoming the latest concern about a suddenly tattered Rays rotation.
Coming into the spring knowing they would be without Matt Moore until at least late June, the Rays now are looking at opening the season without three of their five projected starters. No. 3 Drew Smyly is sidelined with shoulder tendinitis and likely out until mid April; Alex Colome, who was the leading candidate to replace Moore, remains hospitalized due to pneumonia and is out indefinitely; and now Cobb may miss a few weeks.
Cobb, 27, said he took himself out as a precaution and did not think the tightness was a sign of anything significantly wrong, and the diagnosis of tendinitis would support that.
"If it was something I was really concerned of, I probably wouldn't have thrown today at all," Cobb said. "This was something I knew about."
Manager Kevin Cash said he was encouraged by Cobb's comments after the game but was waiting for an official diagnosis. "I think right now we appreciate him being cautious, and we'll be cautious with it, too," Cash said.
Cobb said he first noticed the tightness after an extensive (and changeup intensive) bullpen session that followed his last start, which he wasn't happy with. But he didn't consider it that unusual, as pitchers have different areas of discomfort in their arms at this time of the spring as they extend their workloads.
He said it felt "a little bit tight" when he showed up at Bright House Field on Tuesday, but "you throw some heat on it, it loosens up and you're good to go."
But after 32 pitches over three innings — one short of his scheduled total — he felt the tightness, somewhat like a cramp, return in the upper, inside part of his forearm. He said there was no one pitch or moment of concern. (Also that his slipping on the mound during a third inning delivery was no factor.)
"It was not excruciating pain, it was just there," Cobb said. "And I was like, this is kind of pointless to go through and risk longer term health over an inning."
Pitching coach Jim Hickey was aware of Cobb's status before the game but shared his view that it was okay to pitch. "There was no real concern prior to the game," Hickey said. "I don't think he was being selfish, I don't think he did anything he should not have done."
Cobb said, basically, he felt the risk of pitching with the tightness was worth it compared to missing a start and being behind in building up his innings.
Further, Hickey said Cobb did the right thing in taking himself out of the game.
"At this point, any starter coming out of the game with forearm tightness is not good, so this is certainly not good," Hickey said. "But I really thought it was more precautionary than anything else on his part, which is also good because he can be stubborn and want to just go through it."
Though there were no indications from the way Cobb pitched that anything was amiss, Cash acknowledged there wouldn't necessarily be any signs of a problem. "I didn't see it at all but … you normally don't see that," he said. "It takes somebody telling you that they have that."
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.