DUNEDIN — On a raw, windy afternoon at sold-out Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Alex Cobb provided the sunshine.
The 26-year-old Rays right-hander stymied the Blue Jays in three shutout innings during Friday’s 6-3 Grapefruit League victory, yielding two hits while inducing seven groundouts in his second start of the spring.
“I wanted to execute some pitches and get some ground balls,” said Cobb, who departed after walking Jose Bautista to lead off the fourth inning. “I liked being able to throw a lot of first-pitch curveballs for strikes. My fastball location isn’t exactly what I wanted, but I can see that trending in the right direction.’’
Cobb has gone 22-12 during the past two years, and the Rays won both of his postseason starts last fall after he missed 50 games with a concussion suffered June 15 while absorbing a line drive to the head off the bat of Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer.
“I think Cobber, quite frankly, is one of the best pitchers in the American League,’’ said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “He’s unheralded in some regards, but anybody who has been in the batter’s box against him believes he’s in the top 10. His combination of stuff and movement is very difficult. This guy puts the ball on the ground a lot, so it’s up to us defensively to be in the right spots.’’
Cobb’s hallmark is consistency: He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 33 of his last 37 starts, dating to the summer of 2012.
Cobb’s command was sharp Friday, despite thick clouds, 59-degree temperatures and a steady 20-mph wind blowing straight out.
When the sun came out for a cameo appearance, the crowd of 5,529 applauded in appreciation.
“Pitchers definitely have the advantage right now,’’ Cobb said, “but it was tough to get a grip on the ball and my eyes were watering a lot. This was a good little test. I think the first month of the season we go to a lot of cold cities. It was a little test of what it could be like.’’
All in the family
When Rays rookie 1B Cameron Seitzer crushed a two-run homer in the ninth, he couldn’t wait to grab a peek into the opposing dugout, where his father, Kevin, is Toronto’s new hitting coach.
“He was clapping for me,’’ Cameron said, “and when I stepped on home plate, I winked at him.’’
Kevin Seitzer was a two-time All-Star infielder during a 12-year career with four teams, leading the AL with 207 hits in 1987, his first full year in the major leagues.
“He’s taught me everything I know,’’ Cameron said. “Last year, he saw me a few times on the road in Montgomery. The first home run I hit at Montgomery, my dad was there.’’
Accepting his role
AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers lashed an RBI single in three at-bats as a designated hitter, and Maddon is appreciative of Myers’ passion for getting in the lineup at any cost.
“He will be part of that (DH) mix, and part of it is that he doesn’t mind,’’ Maddon said of Myers, who served as Tampa Bay’s designated hitter 11 times last season. “The acceptance and willingness helps. They’re all going to DH, but with young guys, it’s not often that you’ll get one that doesn’t mind doing it.’’
Former Rays slugger Fred McGriff attended the game as a special assistant for the Blue Jays. ...Tampa Bay has outscored opponents 35-17 this spring. ... In registering their fifth consecutive exhibition victory, the Rays ended a five-game losing streak to the Blue Jays in the Grapefruit League. ... LHP Matt Moore is slated to start for the Rays today at Port Charlotte against the Pirates, and RHP Chris Archer is scheduled to open against the Yankees in Tampa on Sunday.