Cobb confident he can return to form

Righty feels healthy after recovering from Tommy John surgery

Cobb confident he can return to form

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Alex Cobb will make his first start of the spring on Tuesday when the Rays play the Twins at Charlotte County Stadium.

Unlike last season, Cobb is healthy -- and not rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which makes every day beautiful.

"I thought I appreciated being in the Major Leagues before, but I think whenever you lose something, that passion becomes so much greater," Cobb said. "That appreciation goes to another level. When I was away as long as I was, watching all the games on TV, it really hit me when I finally got back."

Cobb had Tommy John surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament on May 14, 2015. He made his return to the Rays on Sept. 2 at Toronto and went 1-0 with a 3.06 ERA in his first three starts before losing his last two starts, each time allowing at least seven runs and being unable to pitch beyond the third inning.

Cobb's strong return from injury

"My first trip to Boston brought everything back," Cobb said. "Just being back in Fenway Park, looking around, and feeling that energy again. Just having that nostalgic feeling, having been in the playoffs there. Playing meaningful games in September.

"It just had that energy to it. I realized how thankful I was to be back, and also how determined I was to get back to winning, and how no other feeling can compare to that feeling of having all the eyes on you, on your team. I want to get back to that feeling. And I have a new appreciation that I want to get back to that."

Sounding "the glass is half -full," Cobb believes he experienced personal and professional growth while he was away.

"I truly believe everything I went through will end up being beneficial for me in my career down the road," Cobb said. "What that means exactly, I don't know. What I benefitted from and what the ultimate finished product will be. But I do believe that I'm going to be better educated and more comfortable with myself on the mound than I ever have been.

"When somebody kind of bulldozes your foundation and you have to kind of build it back from the ground up, it's difficult, but you know it's that much more fresh in your memory and you're able to fix some of the problems that come a lot quicker."

Cobb acknowledged that making his return to the Major Leagues last season, as opposed to delaying his return until this season, was "extremely important."

"I think about it a lot because it gave me a reference point," Cobb said. "When you're playing catch and you're throwing, and you don't have any real information coming back, you're throwing the ball and you see what it does, but until you have a hitter in there, you don't get good feedback."

Cobb said he'll know he's all the way back when he's on the mound and all he's thinking about is how he's going to get the hitter out.

"I never got to that point last year," Cobb said. "I was always fighting myself. ... When I'm out there and nothing about me is going on the mound, it's all about at the plate, and how I'm trying to get that guy out. You know the upper levels of the game. How I want to try and consolidate some pitches this inning. Do I need a big strikeout this inning? Not just hoping a guy doesn't rope a double or a home run off me. I think that's the point I need to get to, and I'm hoping earlier than later in spring that will happen."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.