ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Former Tampa Bay Rays reliever Alex Torres, now with the San Diego Padres, became the first pitcher to wear a protective cap in a regular-season major-league game Saturday night. The development was pleasing for Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, an outspoken proponent for more pitcher safety.
”Actually, I haven’t even seen that yet,” Cobb said Sunday morning, when asked about Torres’ decision. ”He’s wearing the MLB one? That’s cool. That’s cool. It was out there for somebody to be the first person to do it.”
The protective caps, designed by IsoBlox, were approved in January. But before Saturday, there appeared to be little interest from pitchers to wear the hats, which are known for their bulky, Super Mario-like appearance.
Cobb has a unique perspective on the issue, of course. He missed two months last year with a mild concussion after a liner off the bat of the Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer struck him near the right ear on June 15. This year, on June 10, he spoke about his partnership with IsoBlox to promote its protective technology for youth baseball and softball products.
Padres reliever Alex Torres became the first pitcher in the majors to wear a protective cap on Friday night.
”It’s a step in the right direction again, finally get somebody to go out there and take the risk and being willing to see how it feels and hopefully get some feedback on how it went for him,” Cobb said.
Cobb, who’s scheduled to face the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday at Tropicana Field, said comfort concerns remain with the protective cap in its current form. But Torres’ performance was decent with the different look. The former Rays reliever, traded to San Diego in January, allowed one run, a single and two walks while striking out two in the eighth inning of the Padres’ 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park.
”It’s cool,” Cobb said. ”Hopefully, guys will start trying it. … It’s a starting point that you have to get past and figure out the feedback and work with the players and MLB to get to the perfect product.”
ODORIZZI ENJOYS DAY AFTER ONE-HITTER
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi said he would have pushed through to go all nine innings had his no-hitter remained intact late Saturday, despite his pitch total nearing a career high.
Odorizzi allowed just one hit in 111 pitches over 7 1/3 innings in the victory over the Houston Astros at Tropicana Field. The lone blemish came against Jose Altuve, who tapped an infield single off Odorizzi’s right cleat in the top of the fourth.
Odorizzi threw a career-high 113 pitches throughout 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Oakland Athletics on May 20. In addition to the starts Saturday and against Oakland in May, he tossed at least 100 pitches on three other occasions this season: He threw 101 pitches in a no-decision against the Cleveland Indians on May 9, 108 pitches in a no-decision against the Boston Red Sox on May 25 and 104 pitches in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 10.
”If there would have been no hits, I would have gave it my best effort,” Odorizzi said.
Odorizzi’s performance impressed Cobb, who likened Odorizzi’s calm demeanor to another Midwest-born Rays pitcher, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. Odorizzi is from Highland, Illinois, and Hellickson is a native of Des Moines, Iowa.
”It’s kind of like Helly with that Midwest, little swag and not really getting too worked up about anything, just kind of flying under the radar and knowing that, ‘When I get my turn, I’m going to succeed,’ ” Cobb said.
With 10 strikeouts Saturday, Odorizzi raised his strikeout/nine-innings pitched ratio to 10.55, which ranks third among major-league pitchers, behind Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg (10.89) and Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish (10.86). Odorizzi’s 91 strikeouts rank 10th in the American League this season and second among rookies in the majors, only behind the 113 from New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.
Odorizzi is on pace for 194 strikeouts, which would set the team record for a rookie (left-hander Matt Moore had 175 in 2012).
”It’s tough to put a finger on what exactly it is,” Cobb said. ”He just has this internal confidence that he’s going to go out there and get the job done.”
— Cobb said he planned to look at video of the Pirates, an unfamiliar opponent, later Sunday. He said pitching coach Jim Hickey plays a vital role in collecting sample clips of how opposing batters are hitting of late. Still, Cobb said facing a National League foe provides a difficult challenge. He beat the Cincinnati Reds in his first start against an NL team this year, when he allowed no runs and four hits in seven innings on April 12. He lost to the Miami Marlins on June 2, when he allowed three runs and five hits in six innings.
”I’d prefer not to have any excess challenges out there,” Cobb said of facing an NL opponent. ”The game is hard enough. But it’s different, that’s for sure. If I am going to face an NL team, I’d rather do it in an NL park (in order to bat). I think it’s fun for the fans to see. It’s a little added challenge for us to kind of try to figure these guys out sooner than later. Being the first guy to throw in the series, you kind of set the bar and expose weaknesses on guys. So it sets up the rest of the series for the guys throwing.”
— The Rays’ eight runs Saturday marked their highest-scoring game since an 8-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox on May 25. They scored eight runs total in five games from June 6-10.
— Members of the Wounded Warrior Project took batting practice before the game Sunday. Rays left-hander David Price fielded grounders in the infield.
— The College World Series championship will have a little Rays flair. Vanderbilt and Virginia clinched spots in the best-of-three finals Saturday. Price (Vanderbilt) and outfielder Brandon Guyer (Virginia) tweeted about their rooting interests.
Yyyyeeeeesssssss!!!!!! VANDERBILT BASEBALL to the #cws championship!!! Congrats fellas…that was awesome!!! I am so happy right now