Despite only being six months removed from surgery to repair a blood clot and blockage from the area of his top right rib Alex Cobb thought he would compete for a spot in the Rays 2012 rotation. Unfortunately he was among the first round of roster cuts and began the 2012 season with the Rays Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls.
He was recalled to replace Jeff Niemann who suffered a broken leg and in 23 starts posted a record of 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA (3.67 FIP), struck out 7 hitters per nine innings and walked just 2.64 per nine innings.
Like so many things in his young career Cobb had to overcome struggles and make adjustment. After his first 2 starts where he allowed just 3 earned runs in 12 innings he was battered over his next 10 outings going 2-8 with a 5.49 ERA. He was able to make an adjustment and over his final 11 starts he went 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA.
When he reported to Port Charlotte for spring training in 2013 he had the full confidence of manager Joe Maddon who said that Cobb was “pretty much ensconced in the rotation”.
His season started off strong and through his first 13 starts had posted a record of 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA (28 ER/83.2 IP) but once again his season was interrupted by a gruesome injury.
On June 15th in the top of the 5th inning he was facing the Kansas City Royals Eric Hosmer who sent a line drive back toward the mound that struck Cobb on the side of his head. The ball struck him so directly and with such impact that it bounced directly back to catcher Jose Lobaton who threw Hosmer out at first.
He suffered from a concussion and had to wait for fluid behind his ears to dissipate before returning to baseball activities. When he finally began his comeback he had to wait a few more days as he developed a blister on a finger on his pitching hand.
Exactly 60-days after the incident Cobb returned to the mound and down the stretch was one of the Rays most impressive starters. Over his last 9 starts he posted a record of 6-1 with a 2.41 ERA. He was called upon to face the Cleveland Indians in the AL Wild Card game and held the Tribe scoreless for 5.1 innings as the Rays moved on to the AL Division Series with a 4-0 victory.
He finished the season with a record of 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA (3.36 FIP). He was second on the staff in innings per start (6.51 innings/start) behind David Price (6.91 innings/start). He had his highest career strike out rate at 8.41 strikeouts per nine innings and had his lowest walk rate at 2.83 walks per nine innings.
Two luck factors that may have influenced his seasons overall numbers are a slightly below league average BABIP of .279 and an elevated left on base (LOB%) of 81.4%. (3rd highest in MLB with minimum 140 innings pitched).
As the 2013 ended it would not be unreasonable to suggest that he along with David Price were the Rays most reliable starters. If David Price were to be traded it may be Alex Cobb that steps up to fill the role as the leader of the pitching staff in 2014. After all, it’s fair to say that he is ensconced in the top of the rotation.