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Rays ace Alex Cobb makes his return

What should we expect from Alex Cobb in his return from Tommy John Surgery?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight Alex Cobb will make his long awaited return to the Rays against the Blue Jays. His last major league start came almost two years ago on September 28, 2014 against the Indians, back when Kevin Cash was the bullpen coach in Cleveland.

Although unheralded as a prospect, Cobb has been very effective when he has been able to throw the ball. The 28 year old has made 81 starts and thrown 498.2 innings of 3.21 ERA and 3.43 FIP baseball, but Cobb has dealt with many issues that has kept him off the field.

In 2011 his season was cut short as he was diagnosed with Thoratic Outlet Syndrome and needed surgery. In 2013 he missed two months after taking an Eric Hosmer line drive to the head, a horrifying and possibly life threatening moment. And in 2015 his season never got started as he tore his UCL during spring training and required Tommy John Surgery.

Furthermore, those are only the major injuries as he’s never made more than 31 starts or thrown more than 180 innings in any season combining major and minor league time.

When Cobb has been healthy he’s been a really good pitcher. He’s accrued 8.9 fWAR and 10.8 RA9 WAR in 498.2 innings. That’s roughly 3.0 fWAR and 3.9 RA9 WAR per 180 innings pitched. He has struck out 20.8% of batters and walked 7.5% of those he has faced.

Cobb is primarily a three pitch pitcher as he relies on a low 90s sinker, a high 80s split-change, and a low 80s knuckle curve. He occasionally throws a four seam fastball that is roughly the same velocity as his sinker. He generally splits his usage of the sinker and splitter as his primary pitch and throws the curve around 15-20% of the time.

What should be expected tonight?

I really have no clue about the quality of stuff that will be on display this evening. His minor league rehab results haven’t been objectively “good.” He’s had eight starts totaling 21.2 innings and put up a 6.65 ERA. His strikeouts were down to 14.6%, but his walk rate of 7.8% is about what he has done in the majors, but numbers are not necessarily indicative of progress through rehabilitation from surgery.

His last start was his best as he went four innings and only allowed one run on a homer. He only struck out one, but he didn’t allow a walk. He threw 58 pitches, so I would expect he would be limited to around 75 tonight.

The overall results aren’t important tonight, but I’d like to see four to five innings and get some whiffs on quality pitches. Tonight’s match up against the Blue Jays will be tough for Cobb and way you slice it.

It’s best to temper expectations, as we saw Matt Moore struggle last year in his return from TJS before he was optioned even when his arm was fit. The mental struggle of pitching from the mound again can be a hurdle in and of itself.

If Cobb is able to return to form over the course of the next month that will bode well for the 2017 Rays, and for Cobb in what will be his last year of arbitration before becoming a free agent.