CHICAGO -- It felt like the Angels needed a positive “return from injury” story as they close in on the last two weeks of the season, and Alex Cobb gave them one to remember on Thursday afternoon.
Los Angeles officially activated Cobb just more than an hour before first pitch, not long after manager Joe Maddon admitted that he’d spoken to Shohei Ohtani about shutting the two-way star down as a pitcher and only a day after he conceded that Mike Trout and Jo Adell might not see the field again this season. Maddon, though, had already taken the mystery out of Cobb’s return, saying in recent days that Cobb would start the series finale against the White Sox.
And in his first start since July 23, Cobb shut down Chicago’s high-powered bats. Over five innings, Cobb allowed just two hits and two walks and struck out five as he helped set the tone for the Angels’ 9-3 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“I definitely was expecting to go out there and compete and do well, but one, I didn't think I was gonna work that deep into the game, and two, I definitely thought I'd probably be working a little bit harder,” Cobb said. “The overall stuff, I was really happy with. I had two live BPs before this where I didn't love where my location was at, my command. I thought that was gonna be a little bit of a challenge today, but I was able to pound the zone for the most part.”
“That really did exceed expectations,” Maddon said of Cobb’s day on the mound. “It's wonderful to see and to build on, for us and for him. But quite frankly, it was better than I thought it was gonna look like.”
Maddon said Thursday morning that Cobb was going to be limited to the 70- to 75-pitch range, and if Cobb could toss five frames even with the restrictions, “that would be outstanding.”
Cobb easily matched the skipper’s “outstanding” goal, needing just 66 pitches (42 strikes) to make it through the fifth. His 26.5 percent whiff rate (nine whiffs on 34 swings) was just below the 27.2 percent mark he was at when he went on the IL at the end of July, but he was also up 0.4 mph on the average velocity of both his splitter and sinker.
“He was pretty excited afterward,” Maddon said. “[Pitching coach Matt Wise] said it in the dugout, and it's true: When you're in the dugout just watching this guy compete, it's a pleasure, because he really does compete.”
Added Cobb: “It was just fun to be back in that environment.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels’ lineup gave Cobb a ton of breathing room. While Cobb was still the pitcher of record, the Halos backed him up with nine runs on 10 hits. A five-run top of the fourth highlighted the offensive eruption, with Anaheim native Jose Rojas capping the inning with his fifth home run of the year.
Backed by that support, Cobb kept the White Sox off balance for five innings. The Angels cruised from there, though there was some tension in the ninth when Ohtani was hit by a pitch after dodging a pitch from Mike Wright Jr. earlier in the at-bat. Both Wright and Chicago manager Tony La Russa were ejected. Ohtani was not hurt.
Cobb is in the last year of his contract, and even though he has made it known that he’d be open to returning to the Angels, his future is still uncertain with just more than two weeks left in the regular season. But even so, Cobb still feels that a series win like this is going to help Los Angeles next season -- whether or not he’s still a part of the Angels’ rotation.
“We get paid to go out there and compete, and it's what we love to do,” he said. “We love to go out there and be in that mode where we're fighting with the guys and trying to win ballgames. Whether I'm here or not next year, a big aspect of building on the previous year is that record. If we can try to get to above .500 or stay around .500, it can do a lot for our confidence going into next year knowing that we did that without our big guys.”