SEATTLE — The most talked about oblique in Tampa Bay felt fine Tuesday, one day after Alex Cobb put it through another test during a simulated game in Port Charlotte.
Cobb, who has not pitched since he strained his left oblique April 12, will pitch a minor-league rehab game Saturday and could rejoin the Rays as soon as May 22, when they host the A’s at Tropicana Field.
And do the Rays need Cobb.
The Rays were two games above .500 when Cobb beat the Reds in Cincinnati, pitching nearly all eight innings with his injury. They began Tuesday’s game against the Mariners seven games under .500.
The team ERA on April 12 was 2.55, fourth best in baseball.
It was 4.40 after Monday’s 12-5 loss at Safeco Field.
The Rays entered Tuesday 9-18 with Cobb on the DL, and the starters have compiled a 5.22 ERA — the second highest in baseball during that span.
It’s hard to believe the absence of one pitcher can make such a difference, especially when Matt Moore, a 17-game winner in 2013, was lost for the season four games before Cobb was injured.
But Cobb is as much a part of the rotation as David Price, who started Tuesday.
“Cobber is pretty much a solid seven innings when he goes out there,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “And then you get the complementary benefits that occur. The fact that he’s probably going to put you in a good position to win a game, use less relief pitchers. The attitude is better the next day because you won the night before. All the complementary effects can never be overlooked. There’s no way to really evaluate that. ...
Erik Bedard replaced Cobb in the rotation. After a slow start while he built up his arm strength, Bedard has turned into one of the Rays’ most dependable starters.
Cesar Ramos replaced Moore and pitched well until Monday, when he was knocked around by the Mariners.
“I’m not going to lay this all on Erik and Cesar,” Maddon said. “I think they’ve pitched very well.”
But, they weren’t part of the original plan.
The original plan included Jeremy Hellickson, who will miss the first three months of the season while he recovers from January elbow surgery.
The plan coming out of spring training was a rotation of Price, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Ramos was the long man in the bullpen, while Bedard was working on his arm strength at Triple-A Durham.
Then Moore was lost for the season with Tommy John surgery, and Cobb was lost for what looks like will be seven weeks with the oblique strain.
For a team built on pitching, those are two tough blows.
“You’re trying to regrow something in season,” Maddon said. “You make your plans in the offseason. This is what it’s supposed to look like, then it doesn’t look like that, and you have to reboot and get it going again.”
Hellickson is scheduled to return in late June.
Until then, the Rays are hoping Cobb helps to settle a rotation that has put up some un-Rays-like numbers.
“Absolutely, we miss (Cobb),” Price said. “We miss him, Matty, Helly, we miss them all. We’ve definitely set the bar pretty high over the last four or five years, as well. It’s tough. Whenever these guys come back, they’ll be the shot in the arm that we need. Hopefully they come and throw the ball the way they’re capable of throwing and we’ll start winning games in bunches.”