Commentary | Rays' Alex Cobb shows toughness by overcoming adversity

March 23, 2013 

Alex Cobb embraces adversity as if it's his best friend.

It sits in a glass case on a mantelpiece in his St. Petersburg home.

That particular piece of adversity used to be called Alex Cobb because at one time it was.

Now it is part of his memory of times not so good.

It is a portion of Cobb's right rib removed on Aug. 18th of 2011 to remove a blood clot in the area.

Don't read too much into it, the Tampa Bay Rays pitcher says.

"It's a cool memory, but there is no message. It's just an empty box with a rib. There is no motivational speech engraved on it," he says.

Cobb might be throwing a little deception, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Last year, he threw a change-up 33.8 percent of the time, which would have led all major league starters if he had enough innings to qualify.

Someone who can throw a change up that much and have that kind of success would earn a seat at any poker game in the country.

It all goes back to adversity for Cobb.

It will either make you or break you, he says.

It is clear what Cobb has done with it.

"Last year at this time, I wasn't even here. I was in the minor leagues," Cobb said. "Now I have a comfort level after being with the Rays (called up in May) for pretty much an entire season, and I know what to expect. I can really focus on myself, along with baseball, and feel comfortable with my mechanics."

The 25-year-old didn't show much weakness in

throwing 6 1/3 innings Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He battled through some middle-inning troubles to finish strong. The right-hander struck out five and is two shy of tying the Rays' spring record of 30 strikeouts held by James Shields.

Someday, Cobb might replace Shields in many ways, giving the Rays a workhorse pitcher who can throw more than 200 innings a year without sacrificing his future.

"Every struggle you go through in life makes you tougher as a person and the same on the baseball field," Cobb says. "I think everybody that has gone through a difficult time and come back from it is a better person for it. You can let adversity take you in two different directions. It can make you tougher or make you weaker. It's up to you."

The post surgery days for Cobb in 2011 were filled with doubts. There were collateral health issues that surfaced because of the injury. Even when he joined the Rays in May, he had to take on physical and mental challenges.

For Cobb the difference between last spring and this spring is monumental. Instead of doubt there is confidence and instead of obstacles he sees a clear road ahead.

From August 1st through the end of last season Cobb made 11 starts and tied for the American League lead with seven victories. His 2.66 groundball-to-fly ball ratio led the Majors after his return on May 19th

The native of Boston, who played high school ball at Vero Beach, showed a remarkable ability to adjust. Last season, opponents hit .292 in innings one through 3 and batted .213 in innings four through nine.

He showed that uncanny knack against the Pirates. He was a bit shaky in the third and fourth innings, when he gave up three runs then retired eight straight batters

"I struggled a little bit today, but I figured it out through the middle of the game and was able to make an adjustment," Cobb said. "I wasn't getting enough angle on my pitches, and everything was kind of flat. Every ball they hit was up in the zone. I started getting some depth into my pitches."

Cobb showed his grit in the first inning, when, with a runner and second and one out, he took a comebacker, wheeled to second and got Alex Presley, who opened the inning with a double.

"I should've gone to first, but instinctively I went to second," Cobb said. "It was a close play and thankfully I got him. If you don't make the out there a big inning starts. It was kind of stupid on my part, but it worked out."

Rays manager Joe Maddon didn't make the trip, but you can be sure he will smile when he hears about the play. It has often been said adversity can breed toughness, and Cobb showed his manager was right in his case on this day.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports and listen to him talk about his column and other sports on "Out of Bounds" every Tuesday and Thursday between 8 and 10 p.m. on WTMY 1280-AM.

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