HOUSTON — For Alex Cobb, something didn't quite feel right in his previous few starts. Judging by his results, things didn't look quite right, either.
In losing three consecutive starts, Cobb allowed 16 earned runs in 151⁄3 innings pitched, with the low-light coming in his previous start when he gave up seven runs in less than five innings of work.
“You go borderline crazy after bad starts, you start running your mechanics through your mind thousands of times,'' Cobb said. “It keeps you up at night sometimes.''
Cobb figured it out Friday, putting together a stellar effort in Tampa Bay's 6-1 victory in front of an announced crowd of 26,829 at Minute Maid Park. Cobb finished the night allowing three hits over 61/3 innings while striking out a season-high 11 on 97 pitches. The victory snapped a personal three-game losing streak for Cobb and was his first victory since a 1-0 win at Cincinnati on April 12, his final start before missing six weeks with an oblique strain.
“He started the season sharp, then had the injury to his side, so I just think he needs to get back into the swing of things,'' manager Joe Maddon said. “When Cobber is right, he's one of the best pitchers in the game, I'll put him up against anybody. When the fastball, curveball and change-up are all working, it's as good as it gets and he is one of the best-kept secrets nationally. That ERA is going to keep coming down, the strikeouts are going to stay up there and the win total will flip-flop.''
Cobb (2-4) reached double digits in strikeouts for the fifth time in his career and the first since Sept. 21 of last season.
“It feels good to come out there and see your adjustments pay off,'' he said. “It's to the point now where I'm thinking about doing it and I just need to get to the point where it's just natural habit to do it.''
Rays pitchers combined to strike out 16 batters.
Ben Zobrist, who finished a home run short of the cycle, Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce helped lead the offense, each driving in a pair as the Rays (26-42) won back-to-back games for the first time since May 24-25. The win also snapped a 10-game road losing streak dating to May 24 at Boston.
The Rays were the beneficiary of a botched play to start the second when James Loney popped up to shallow left-center field, but Houston shortstop Jonathan Villar failed to corral the ball, allowing Loney to reach first. Zobrist followed that with a double to right to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Two batters later, Matt Joyce lined a double down the right-field line to bring home a pair and stake Cobb to the early lead.
The Astros cut the Rays' lead in half on a home run by Jon Singleton in the fourth.
But Zobrist came through in the next half-inning, lining a two-run, two-out triple to right field to bring home Desmond Jennings and Loney to provide a 4-1 lead for Cobb.
“It was refreshing and nice to see, he hit it well,'' Maddon said.
After finishing the sixth by striking out the side, Cobb allowed a lead-off single to Matt Dominguez to start the seventh that was followed by a 425-foot fly ball by Chris Carter sent Jennings to the middle of the slope in center field.
That prompted Maddon to call on Brad Boxberger, who sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a walk to end the seventh inning.
Joel Peralta came on in the eighth and struck out the side before Longoria broke the game open with a two-run single in the ninth.
Kirby Yates and Jake McGee combined to pitch a scoreless ninth.