ST. PETERSBURG - It was almost an ordinary Saturday in the life of Alex Cobb. He woke up at 10 a.m., stopped by a Subway restaurant and ordered a turkey sub with bacon before heading to work.
OK, it wasn't that ordinary. Cobb said there was too much bacon on the sub. Really?
And he was making his first start of the season for the Rays
But if you remembered the way Cobb pitched last season, then it certainly had a familiar feel.
"There wasn't that added adrenaline rush that I had in previous call-ups," Cobb said. "It was a more normal, routine day: go get lunch, go to the field and get prepared."
After nitpicking his way through the first three innings, Cobb challenged the Atlanta Braves hitters with his fastball and pitched seven solid innings in a 5-2 victory in front of 27,433 at Tropicana Field.
Matt Joyce helped settle Cobb with a third-inning grand slam that put the Rays in front, and Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney each tossed a perfect inning as Tampa Bay snapped a two-game losing streak.
"I've seen him a couple of times now. He's going to be really good," Joyce said. "He's going to be a big part of our success. We're happy to have him."
Cobb, 24, who was 3-2 in nine starts last season, was called up to replace Jeff Niemann in the rotation. Niemann's right fibula was fractured May14 in Toronto.
At 6-foot-9, Niemann leaves some pretty big shoes to fill, figuratively and literally, according to catcher Chris Gimenez. If Cobb picks up where he left off before a blockage near his first right rib ended his 2011 season, the Rays should be able to withstand Niemann's absence.
"With all the injuries, it's unbelievable that we have people step right in," Gimenez said.
Cobb, who had surgery in August to remove the blockage and the rib, was still trying to iron out his mechanics during most of his eight starts with Triple-A Durham. He didn't really feel smooth, he said, until his last start, when he allowed three hits and struck out eight in five innings.
"As long as I'm in tune with my mechanics, I feel I should have success at this level," he said.
That wasn't the problem during the first three innings when, as manager Joe Maddon later said, Cobb was "tap-dancing" around the strike zone with his off-speed stuff.
"Pitch your game first. Make them adjust to you. You're pretty good yourself," Maddon said.
The Braves reached Cobb for two runs in the second inning on three straight singles and a sacrifice fly. After the third inning, Gimenez approached Cobb in the dugout and said they had to start using the fastball.
"Every ball they hit was an off-speed pitch," Gimenez said. "As soon as he started using his fastball he kind of breezed from there."
Joyce gave Cobb a 4-2 lead, which Cobb said made it easier to pitch.
He threw 76 pitches during the first four innings. He needed only 37 over the last three, retiring his final 10 batters.
"I started to feel comfortable around the third or fourth innings, and I just started throwing nice and loose and started hitting my spots better," Cobb said.
Before the game, Maddon said the keys to a good outing from Cobb would be fastball command in the strike zone that produce swings and misses, and ground balls off his off-speed stuff. That's what happened beginning with the fourth inning. Five of his six strikeouts were swinging, and the last seven balls put in play resulted in ground outs.
Cobb said his lack of pregame jitters came from his belief he belongs at the major-league level.
"He definitely has the attitude about him, and I love it," Maddon said. "Not in a cocky way, but in a very confident way he believes he belongs in the big leagues."
How about Maddon and the rest of the Rays' brain trust?
"Yes," Maddon said. "We have felt that way all along."
Tampa Bay Rays
Cobb, Joyce lead Rays past Braves
Tampa murder suspect told police he wanted to stop neo-Nazi roommates from committing acts of domestic terrorism