ST. PETERSBURG — All the pregame chatter centered around Alex Cobb, and the things written about him lately, and how highly regarded he is by Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon.
A scout from a rival team compared Cobb's ability to carve up a good lineup to Hall of Fame-elect Greg Maddux in Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue.
Maddon said Cobb has the stuff to be the ace of a staff.
“Alex Cobb is a No. 1 pitcher,” Maddon said before Tuesday's game against visiting Toronto. “Alex Cobb could have been an Opening Day starter for a lot of teams, including us if it were under different circumstances.”
Then Drew Hutchison, who hasn't pitched at the big-league level in more than a year because of reconstructive elbow surgery, stole the show from Cobb and the Rays as Toronto bounced back from Monday's Opening Day loss with a 4-2 win in front of 11,113 fans at Tropicana Field.
The party atmosphere that rocked the building Monday was missing Tuesday until the ninth inning, when the Rays scored once and put runners at second and third with two out. The crowd was nearly 20,000 fewer, and the Rays bats were largely silent, thanks to Hutchison.
Also thanks to Cobb, who had trouble locating his fastball and paid for it.
All four of the Blue Jays runs came with two outs, including the first three, which scored on Adam Lind's first-inning home run.
“A lot of times, when you score four runs with two outs you win that game,” Maddon said.
Cobb said all his pitches worked great when he was warming up in the bullpen.
“I got to the game mound and it didn't translate in the first (inning),” he said. “A little timid with pitches and trying to be too fine, and you get the complete opposite when you try to do that.”
Maddon thought Cobb's tempo was a little off and attributed that to Cobb working with catcher Ryan Hanigan for the first time in a regular-season game.
“I think there's going to be a learning curve with (Hanigan) handling some of our pitchers,” Maddon said, “and I totally get that.”
Maddon said Cobb's fastball had good velocity and his curveball had good break. The problem was, he couldn't get the fastball in the strike zone often enough.
“His stuff was good, but the command was a little off,” Maddon said. “You look at the gun readings, it was pretty normal. The break on the breaking ball was pretty normal. He wasn't getting the chase like he normally dos out of the zone. That just comes to how everything was set up, the utilization of his fastball, those sort of things. Stuff-wise, normal. Command-wise Abby-normal.”
Maddon was channeling a scene from “Young Frankenstein” there.
The game was halted twice for replay reviews, both at the behest of Jays manager John Gibbons. The umpires took a look in the seventh inning at a long foul ball down the right-field line by Colby Rasmus. The review took 3 minutes, 34 seconds and the call was upheld.
Gibbons used his challenge on the final out in the top of the ninth. Evan Longoria made a diving stop on a smash by Melky Cabrera and threw him out from his knees. It took 1:20 for that call to be upheld.
Longoria then started a rally when he doubled off the glove of Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie. The ball bounced into shallow left field and Longoria hustled his way to second base.
Desmond Jennings doubled home Longoria to cut the Jays lead to 4-2. Hanigan drew a two-out walk, and pinch-runner Sean Rodriguez and Jennings each moved up a base on a double steal. But Yunel Escobar looked at a called strike three to end the game.
“We almost had a chance to win that game right there, and the way it started out (with Longoria doubling) off the third baseman's glove, sometimes you're looking for those little moments to swing things back in your favor,” Maddon said. “It was a great hustle play on his part.”
(813) 259-7227(813) 259-7227