BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) - Alex Cobb said that knowing he has a spot in the Tampa Bay Rays' rotation has freed him to work on pitches without worrying about results.
There has been no cause for concern with the results of his past two outings. On Thursday, the 25-year-old right-hander allowed just one hit, no runs, no walks and struck out five in four innings in a 4-2 victory against the Pirates.
The Rays scored four unearned runs against Jeanmar Gomez after Pittsburgh third baseman Gaby Sanchez was charged with a throwing error with two outs in the seventh inning. Wil Myers reached base and pinch-runner Hak-Ju Lee scored on the error, then Mike Fontenot singled and Tim Beckham hit a two-run double to make it 3-0.
Cobb retired the first eight batters he faced before Pittsburgh second baseman Josh Harrison singled in the third.
"I'm just working on my consistency; missing a pitch and then figuring out why I missed that pitch or why I did what I did and correcting it, or not correcting it and realizing why" said Cobb, 25, who is expected to take the No. 4 spot in the rotation. "I think a couple years being up and down at the big league level really helped me get to the point where I'm at right now. They're all learning points and I feel like I'm figuring them out right now."
Right-hander Chris Archer pitched three scoreless innings for Tampa and the Pirates had only two hits going into the ninth. Matt Hague singled, Jared Goedert walked and Russell Martin doubled off Jake Odorizzi to make it 4-2.
Pittsburgh right-hander James McDonald gave up a single to the first batter he faced but no more. He walked the first two batters in the second but got out of the inning unscathed and finished with three walks and one strikeout in four scoreless innings, his best outing so far this spring.
"I was happy with the way I got a ground ball and a double-play," McDonald said. "I'm big on that, not letting innings get too big. I had to just step back, slow it down, refocus and make the next pitch. I think I got a little ahead of myself and sped the game up a little."
McDonald gave up three home runs in his previous outing and entered the game with an ERA of 7.20.
"He's getting a little sharper," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was able to throw all four of his pitches. He controlled the running game and picked off a runner as well so it was a good day for him."
Cobb, who focused on his first-pitch curve in three scoreless innings against Baltimore on Saturday, emphasized the cutter against Pittsburgh. He said the pitch is inconsistent now, but hopes it will become a punch-out pitch and, early in the count, a get-ahead pitch.
"If I didn't have a spot, I'd probably be a little hesitant to throw that pitch as much as I did," Cobb said. "Knowing that I do have a spot I was able to go out there and try to attack with it."
Pittsburgh first baseman/right fielder Garrett Jones was scratched from the lineup because of a mild strain to the left oblique muscle.
Jones played on Wednesday and felt minor discomfort on Thursday morning, and said his absence was precautionary. Jones will limit his action on Friday and be reevaluated on Saturday.