Just a day after dominating the Reds en route to a 2-1 Rays win, Alex Cobb has been placed on the disabled list due to an oblique strain. Cobb joins fellow Rays starters Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore on the DL, meaning that the only members of Tampa Bay’s projected preseason rotation that are still healthy are David Price and Chris Archer.
This is Cobb’s third DL stint in the last four seasons, though the oblique strain is much less serious than the concussion that landed him on the DL in 2013 and the surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome that ended his 2011 season in August. It’s a shame, because Cobb has been one of the better pitchers in the American League when healthy. Over his 351 1/3 innings in the majors, Cobb has a 3.30 ERA, 291 strikeouts, and 111 walks. Unfortunately, 351 1/3 innings and 57 starts in the majors isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of health for a guy who is 26 and made his major league debut in May of 2011.
Without Cobb, the Rays’ starting pitching situation gets a little hairier. They were already without Hellickson, and Moore joined him on the DL last week, forcing Jake Odorizzi and Cesar Ramos into the rotation. Without Cobb as well, Tampa Bay is likely going to be turning to veteran Erik Bedard to fill the final spot in their rotation. The 35-year old year Bedard pitched adequately for the Astros last season, pitching to a 4.59 ERA in 151 innings, but at least he’s just expected to be a stopgap for the Rays as opposed to a long-term solution.
On another note, how much does Alex Colome’s 50 game suspension hurt the Rays right now? Colome would have been an ideal candidate to fill one of the rotation holes, but he won’t be back in the picture until the end of May. By then, Cobb should be back in the picture with Hellickson following soon thereafter, which would turn Colome into AAA depth once again.
Cobb’s injury comes at an even worse time for the Rays because of three reasons – the offense is struggling, the bullpen is walking a tightrope, and the schedule is about to get rough. Tampa Bay’s offense ranks 21st in the majors with a .226/.308/.365 stat line, and only six teams have fewer homers than the Rays’ nine. The Rays have gotten good production (as usual) out of Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, and Desmond Jennings, but James Loney, Wil Myers, Yunel Escobar, and David DeJesus have been just about worthless with their bats in a small sample to start the year.
The Rays have also gotten some shaky work out of their bullpen so far – despite a 2.01 ERA in 31 1/3 innings, Rays relievers have struck out just 24 and walked 13 and have benefited from a .212 BABIP that is the second-lowest of any bullpen in baseball. Usually dependable setup man Joel Peralta has been shaky, and new closer Grant Balfour has struggled with his control, though he still hasn’t allowed a run in five games. When you throw in the fact that Heath Bell looks like a completely different pitcher compared to his prime years and that the aforementioned Ramos is getting a promotion into the rotation after some solid work so far, the bubble seems bound to burst for the Rays sooner rather than later.
This club will need to bear down with Cobb out, because they’re about to get a taste of the NL East. After concluding their series with the Reds on Sunday, Tampa Bay will play three games with the Red Sox, six with the Orioles, and seven with the Yankees over their next 23 games, which includes a ten game, ten day, three city road trip to Boston, Chicago, and New York. Those games would be tough enough with your rotation intact, but missing 60% of your starting rotation? It could be an absolute nightmare.
If the bottom doesn’t fall out for the Rays over the next few weeks and they keep their heads above water in the AL East, the incoming reinforcements could be enough to push them to a surge over the season’s final three-quarters. If they start struggling with Cobb on the DL, the climb uphill may be too steep for this talented team.