PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Picking up a No. 1 starter at the non-waiver Trade Deadline would be a delicious scenario for any contending team, right?The 2016 Rays will likely do so -- and without trading anybody. That's why Alex Cobb is the team's X-factor for the coming season.Cobb had been
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Picking up a No. 1 starter at the non-waiver Trade Deadline would be a delicious scenario for any contending team, right?
The 2016 Rays will likely do so -- and without trading anybody. That's why Alex Cobb is the team's X-factor for the coming season.
Cobb had been well on his way to establishing himself as the Rays' No. 1 starter when his right elbow began bothering him in March 2015. What his elbow told him led to season-ending Tommy John surgery on May 14.
-- 2016 Opening Day coverage --
Since then, Cobb has been in the rehab business, following the established path that many before him have taken in order to get back on the mound.
Early in his journey, Cobb decided everybody would be best served if he went to Arizona for his rehab.
"I didn't want to be the guy around the clubhouse, always on the table, getting in people's way," Cobb said. "And from a selfish standpoint, I was able to go and get treatment, and really focus on myself. Take that time to try to turn this into a positive."
Cobb now finds himself on track for an early August return. That return will cap the latest substantial obstacle he's faced in his life.
The toughest of those obstacles came during his senior year of high school when his mother died at the age of 49. A parade of professional stumbling blocks followed once he reached the Major Leagues.
In 2011, discomfort in Cobb's right hand was diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome. That required season-ending surgery to remove a blood clot and a blockage in the area of his right rib.
On June 15, 2013, an Eric Hosmer line drive struck Cobb near his right ear. The resulting concussion caused him to miss 50 games. A left oblique strain cost him a month's worth of games in 2014.
"I think going through what I have makes me have a more appreciative viewpoint about being healthy than most guys," Cobb said. "The one thing that's been helping me in my return is I know I'm going to be able to get acclimated quicker.
"I know going right back into the fire to compete feels like after a long layoff. So I know I can get acclimated quicker -- mentally and physically -- than maybe somebody who is experiencing it for the first time. I think every experience you have can help make you better suited for the obstacles that come into your life."
Pitching coach Jim Hickey called Cobb "special" and talked glowingly about his toughness, his leadership and how the other players respect him.
"Basically, he's been through a lot of things that other people have not been through, and he's come through all of them with flying colors," Hickey said. "After what he's been through, I expect him to be productive once he returns, almost as if he'd never left."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com.