Alex Cobb Shines Against Yankees

September 4, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throws a pitch in the third inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

In what was arguably the biggest start of his young career, Alex Cobb threw one of his best games of the season. It wasn't on par with his complete game shutout of Oakland on August 23rd, but considering what was at stake it may rank just behind it. The Rays have a brutal September schedule so starting strong and putting the pressure on your opponents is key. With a Labor Day victory under their belt and the excellent Hiroki Kuroda looming Wednesday, picking up a victory last night was a must. Luckily for the Rays Cobb was on his game.

You may not have agreed with that last sentence after watching the first inning. After getting Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson to ground out, Cobb walked Nick Swisher. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate and promptly took Cobb's fourth pitch, a high fastball, and deposited it into the left field seats. That would be the only mistake Cobb would make all night. He got into little jams in the second and third innings but was able to deftly pitch his way out of them, including getting Cano to ground into an inning ending double play with two on to keep the deficit at one.

He would go on to retire 14 of the last 15 batters he faced, including the final 10. How was he able to do it? As friend of the site R.J. Anderson noted at The Process Report, Cobb, along with Shields the day before, altered his approach against New York. Cobb is predominantly a changeup pitcher. In fact, according to FanGraphs his changeup is the only pitch to have a positive value this season.

As Anderson noted, Cobb threw less changeups (just 25%, down from 36% on the season) and focused more on his fastball and curveball, the latter being especially effective. He was able to effectively throw it middle-in to left handed bats and keep it biting away from righties. He had a 76% strike percentage with the pitch, and seven of the twelve ground ball outs he generated came from it, including the aforementioned Cano double play. It also resulted in three swinging strikes, a pop out and one strikeout.

The curveball was a nice weapon but Cobb's greatest advantage was his ability to get ahead of hitters. He recorded 19 first pitch strikes to the 26 hitters he faced, only falling behind in the count eight times total. Despite the fact that he didn't use his changeup as much he was able to get three whiffs and one strikeout -- an especially great one to Raul Ibanez that shows you just how nasty that pitch can be.

Not many (none?) teams have as good of a number five starter as the Rays do in Cobb. Over this final month they're going to need solid contributions from everyone if they're going to claim a playoff birth. Solid pitching like this goes a long way to accomplishing that.
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