PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Alex Cobb, facing big-league hitters Saturday for the first time in 15 days, struck out 12 and allowed three runs in seven innings during the Rays’ 3-3 tie with the Orioles at Charlotte Sports Park.
Cobb, whose two previous outings were in a minor-league game and in a simulated game against hitters from the Rays’ minor-league camp, said he was glad to face the Orioles.
“It was exhausting. I realized in the fifth I’ve gone five (before) but I haven’t gone five against competitive hitters that really make you work for outs,” he said. “It was a little tiring, but it was what I needed.”
Cobb threw 88 pitches, 67 for strikes. He did not have one three-ball count.
He will make his final Grapefruit League start Thursday night against the Orioles in Sarasota. Cobb said he will likely pitch only five innings. He also said he’s glad he will be pitching under the lights at Ed Smith Stadium.
“That will be nice. There’s a different routine for a night game,” he said. “You have to sit around quite a bit during the day, get your body going before a 7 o’clock start. It will be more of a natural feeling going into that game as the regular season.”
Who’s in relief?
The Rays solved their rotation issues Saturday when they named RHP Jake Odorizzi as the fifth starter, a move that sends LHP Cesar Ramos back to the bullpen as the long man.
Since RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo will begin the season on the disabled list, the Rays are now looking for two arms for the bullpen, though the second reliever is expected to have a job with the big club only until Oviedo returns.
“Theoretically, that’s probably true,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You would go into it thinking that, always knowing that things can change at any moment. Even if in a two-week period, if everybody stays well, you would probably exchange that guy, however I don’t know that. We just have to play it out.”
RHPs Brandon Gomes, Mark Lowe and Josh Lueke are in contention for those spots. Gomes has an option, and Lowe is on a minor-league contract. Lueke is out of options.
Now batting ...
Maddon said he hasn’t given much thought to his batting order.
He did say CF Desmond Jennings and OF David DeJesus will form a righty-lefty platoon at the top of the order and that 3B Evan Longoria will bat third or fourth.
“It’s the same issues we’ve had in the past,” Maddon said. “Where’s the better spot to put Longo? We’ll continue to research that, probably go off of statistical information there that’s really held up.”
Maddon did say SS Yunel Escobar could find himself hitting ninth on a regular basis based on the success Escobar had there last season and based on the better bats the Rays now have in the lineup.
“There are better people before the nine-hole from the right side that we have not had before,” Maddon said. “I’d probably be inclined to keep him more in the nine-hole regardless, just because I like him there and I think he does good work and he feeds into the top of the batting order, but that’s not finalized yet. Against a right-hander, probably, but I’m not there yet.”
OF Matt Joyce (stiff neck) is expected to play this afternoon against the Red Sox in Fort Myers. ... Because of Cobb’s long outing, Maddon had to squeeze LHP Jake McGee, RHP Joel Peralta and Lueke into what would have been the final two innings had the Rays not tied the score in the ninth. Maddon was going to pull McGee with one out and a runner on but let him go one more batter before calling for Peralta. But McGee got out of the inning with a double-play grounder. Peralta faced one batter in the ninth and Lueke had to pick up five outs ... 1B James Loney hit his second home run of the spring, a long, two-run drive to the back of the boardwalk in right-center field. Loney has a team-high 13 RBIs.