Rays vs. Indians, game 2: Alex Cobb is better than Trevor Bauer

The best fifth starter in the league, or the fifth best starter in the league? - J. Meric

Alex Cobb outpitched the more heavily heralded Trevor Bauer to notch the Rays' second consecutive shutout.

Tonight we were treated to an interesting comparison between two pitchers who could hardly be less alike. Trevor Bauer is a highly drafted (third overall in 2011) and highly touted player with a live fastball and every secondary pitch you can think of to work off of it. He subscribes to an unusual, scientific approach to pitching, and there are questions concerning his attitude and coach-ability (which might just be questions about the attitude and the coaching ability of the Arizona Diamond Backs organization). Bauer breezed through the minors in less than two seasons, but he has yet to translate that minor league success into quality major league outings, due to some significant control problems.

On the other side of the spectrum is Alex Cobb. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, he didn't break into the majors until last year, and when he did it was largely without fanfare. He's strictly a three pitch pitcher, and his fastball is nothing to write home about. Even fans who followed him through Montgomery and Durham were unsure if his stuff would play at the major league level. But it does. If I were Andrew Friedman and Cleveland were to offer me a straight swap tomorrow, I believe I would say no.

Trevor Bauer started the game by throwing 26 pitches and walking the first four batters he faced. Then James Loney popped out in foul territory on a 1-0 pitch. Next, Yunel Escobar lined a 1-1 pitch into right field that Ryan Raburn caught and fired back home to easily catch Joyce tagging up and trying to score. It was a great throw by Raburn, but a fairly disappointing end to the inning for the Rays, who should have been able to work more off of their wild young opponent.

The third inning was just as frustrating for the Rays offense. Desmond Jennings drew a 5-ball walk (Dale Scott had a pretty shaky day behind the plate), and quickly stole both second and third base. Matt Joyce hit a chopper to third that Lonnie Chisenhall collected and threw to the plate for a bang bang play at home. Jennings channeled his football playing past and barreled into Lou Marson at full speed, but was unable to jar the ball loose (Marson was checked for a concussion, and was left in to catch the rest of the third inning but then removed before the start of the fourth). Ben Zobrist and James Loney both worked outs, but the Rays would not score in the inning despite their two hit, two stolen bases, two walks, and two other balls in play. Sequencing can be a bitch.

After his second escape, Bauer settled down and found the strike zone, but the Rays were able to tack on a few more runs in the bottom of the fourth when Molina hit a line drive single and Kelly Johnson homered with a high fly ball down the right field line. Johnson had hit a similarly high fly ball to the same area of the park earlier on in the game, but it had fallen at the warning track, just a bit short. I have to admit, I'm really not sure what to project for KJ this season, but whatever he hits, it will be refreshing to see him in the ninth spot. Major league caliber offense is not something the Rays were used to seeing last year out of the bottom of their lineup.

Although the Rays would tack on three more runs, they wouldn't need them, thanks to Alex Cobb and the bullpen's strong outings. Cobb lasted one batter (and one out) into the seventh inning, throwing 105 pitches. According to Brooks Baseball, he threw 17% changeups and 21% curve balls, filling in the rest of his at bats with well located fastballs. He got no whiffs on his curve, and he threw it for fewer strikes than he often does when he's on his game (which contributed to an uncharacteristic three walks), but he was still great overall, generating six strikeouts to go with only four hits. What Cobb lacks in quantity of pitches, he more than makes up for with good location, strong groundball tendencies (47% today), and the ability to throw any of his three pitches to any location in any count. People call it a "breakout" when the national media starts to notice a previously under the radar player, but in Tampa Bay, we already know what we have.

Some other notes:

  • Matt Albers came on to relieve Bauer in the bottom of the sixth inning. He gave up a single to Yunel Escobar that Escobar tried to stretch into a double. The throw beat him there, but Kipnis's glove caught on the bag, leading to a close tag play. Escobar energetically called himself safe and the umpire followed suit. He would eventually come around to score, and when the inning was over, Albers went after the second base umpire in a rage. It amazed me that wasn't tossed, but I'm even more perplexed as to what he was thinking. That run was not a deciding turning point in the game at that point, and his anger seemed pretty personal. Was he upset about the umps ruining his ERA? Not the most attractive of moments for Albers.
  • Second year pitcher Cody Allen took the mound for the Indians in the sixth inning, and with his second pitch, threw behind Longoria, drilling him in the buttocks. Longoria gave him a hard look (Santana hurried over, worried that Evan might charge the mound), and both benches were warned. Was it an extension of Albers's anger? Was it payback for Jennings taking out Marson at the plate? None of those options made much sense. As Allen's appearance wore on, the seemingly intentional beaning looked more and more like an accident. In fact, at one point Allen threw a pitch nearly as far outside as the pitch that hit Longoria had been inside (Santana laid out, ultimate frisbee style, to save it from being a wild pitch). I doubt there will be any more funny business tomorrow.
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