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Rays notes: Cobb relying on curve

Published:   |   Updated: April 12, 2013 at 07:35 AM

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BOSTON -

If Tampa Bay Rays RHP Alex Cobb had enough innings last season to qualify for such things, he would have led the major leagues with the largest percentage of change-ups thrown per start at 33.8 percent.

But in his first start this season, only 18.4 percent of his pitches were change-ups. Cobb is throwing more of what he calls a spike curveball, and the results produced a solid spring and 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the visiting Indians in his 2013 debut.

Cobb, who faces the Red Sox tonight at Fenway Park, feels the curveball, which he throws by digging the finger nail of his right index finger into the seam of the baseball, has made a positive impact on his ability to be successful at the big-league level.

“It's huge,” he said. “Not only for a put-away pitch but it's also, on the change-up I relied a lot on swings and misses hoping they chase out of the zone. This curveball allows me to start off the count early with just a get-me-over curveball, and usually they'll take it if it's not the pitch they're looking for. So to be able to get ahead in the count is huge. I wasn't able to do that so much with my change-up. It's more of a hoping they chase kind of a pitch, and this one is more of an out of the zone in the zone.”

Cobb made the switch from the traditional curveball grip last season, learning the spike grip from former Rays James Shields and Wade Davis.

“It took a good half of the season last year where I was only throwing it 74, 76 (miles per hour),” he said. “It was still good. It was good from the first day I started it, but it wasn't as fast as it is now and it wasn't as sharp. I saw success with it right away, but it's gotten a lot better now that I'm more comfortable with it.”

Cobb said he can throw the pitch in the 79- to 82-mph range.

“It keeps a tighter spin,” he said. “More of a four-seam rotation so it's harder to pick up. I've also gained a few miles per hour on it, so it's been a huge help this year.”

Still the BoSox Rays manager Joe Maddon is not among those who are expecting another poor year for the Red Sox.

Why?

“I think their pitching has had a lot to do with it,” Maddon said. “I think their bullpen is outstanding. I like their bullpen a lot.”

Boston starters LHP Jon Lester and RHP Clay Buchholz both had good springs and have carried that into their first two starts of the season.

Lester, who faces LHP David Price on Saturday afternoon in a nationally televised game, is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Buchholz, Sunday's starter, is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA.

Maddon thinks the Red Sox will be tough if those two pitch well this season. He also thinks the change in clubhouse culture in Boston with the additions of OF/DH Jonny Gomes and OF Shane Victorino cannot be overlooked.

“They got a good group makeup-wise, and that's the part I think is most compelling,” Maddon said. “They got guys there who are tough guys, good makeup guys, good chemistry guys. And for that segment out there that does not believe in chemistry, I don't quite understand that.”

Noteworthy Cobb won both his starts at Fenway last season. While his road ERA is 4.03, compared to 3.45 at the Trop, he has not lost a road start since July 27, 2012 at Anaheim, a span of six starts. … Since 2010, the Rays are 18-9 at Fenway Park, the best record among Red Sox opponents. … Matt Moore earned a win for the Rays on Wednesday despite allowing six walks in only 51/3 innings pitched. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Moore is the second starting pitcher in Rays history to earn a win despite walking at least six batters and pitching fewer than six innings. Victor Zambrano did it against the Yankees on April 6, 2004 (five innings pitched, seven walks).

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