ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Alex Cobb took a big step in his recovery from a mild concussion Friday afternoon, getting on the mound for the first time since being struck in the right ear by a line drive June 15.
There is no timetable for his return, but Cobb was encouraged by his progress. He said he felt great during a 29-pitch bullpen session. He threw all his pitches and said he felt like he did before Royals 1B Eric Hosmer's liner hit him. Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said he was impressed.
"I don't think we're extremely close, but we're moving a lot faster than expected," Cobb said. "Considering what happened, if you would ask me the next day, I'd be extremely excited to be 19 days or so back on the mound. It's a great feeling to be able to be back out here; kind of be one step closer to where I want to be."
Cobb said he still is dealing with vertigo when he tilts his head a certain way, but doctors told him he should see drastic improvement over the next couple of weeks. He has passed his first set of concussion-related tests. He said he has heard it's very difficult to get cleared by Major League Baseball for the second set. In the meantime, Cobb is trying to keep in game shape for when he can complete the tests and begin a minor-league rehabilitation stint.
Cobb is confident he is moving in the right direction and will continue to throw bullpen sessions and work out, comparing it to preparing for spring training. "It could be a positive thing," Cobb said. "I might be really fresh when I come back and in better shape than I was. You never know."
LONGO LEGS: Evan Longoria made his first start at third base since June 28, when he left after irritating the plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Longoria had served as designated hitter the previous three games after missing three. Manager Joe Maddon said the three-time All-Star felt good enough to play defense Friday against the White Sox. Longoria isn't ready to play third every day, he said. So he'll likely get more starts at DH during the rest of the homestand, with a decision being made before each game.
STARRY NIGHT: The All-Star teams will be announced at 6:30 tonight on Ch. 13. Maddon said Longoria deserves to make it and LHP Matt Moore should receive strong consideration, along with SS Yunel Escobar and 1B James Loney. Maddon said he'd have no problem with Longoria playing even as the third baseman deals with his foot issue because he likely would have a limited role. Moore (11-3) said an All-Star selection hasn't crossed his mind much. "I don't really have plans during the All-Star break," Moore said. "But I'm starting to think about it."
MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Brandon Gomes (lat strain) believed he was two outings away from returning (even buying an "accidental preppie" outfit for this week's wardrobe-themed trip to Houston) when he felt discomfort June 27 while warming up for a game in Port Charlotte. "It kind of came out of nowhere," Gomes said. "It's pretty frustrating." Gomes, out since May 10, said it wasn't a major setback. He rested a week and will play catch today. He hopes to start another rehab assignment during the All-Star break.
Day off: With Ben Zobrist going 1-for-19 during the four-game Astros series, Maddon gave him a day off, believing he seemed tired after working so hard to snap out of his struggles. It was the first time Zobrist hadn't started since June 1.
"He's been grinding it out harshly," Maddon said. "I just wanted him to back off a little bit."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.