PITTSBURGH — Alex Cobb on Sunday will make his first start for the Giants since May 18, just before he suffered a string of unfortunate injuries that sidelined him for three turns through the rotation.
“It feels like it’s been a month,” Cobb said.
Cobb was nearing a return from a lower back strain when he tweaked his neck during a side session, landing him on the 15-day injured list. He became the first Giants pitcher forced to miss at least 15 days since the MLB rule change took effect in May that extended the IL stint for pitchers from 10 to 15 days.
The rule was intended to limit roster manipulation, something the Giants could be accused of with their I-80 shuttle between San Francisco and Triple-A Sacramento last season, but don’t consider Cobb a fan.
“I honestly think it’s a stupid transition to go to that after what we’ve been through as a league for the last three years, dating back to 2020,” Cobb said. “We play 162 games in 180 days. If you’re gonna manipulate the roster for 10 days, who cares?”
The league played a shortened season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as players were recouping from the side effects of the 60-game season, they had to work around a spring training this season shortened by the lockout fueled by the labor dispute between owners and players.
Cobb argued the league and players association, who agreed on the 15-day pitchers’ IL, weren’t prioritizing players’ health.
“The thing is when one guy goes on, other people have to make up for that. So you’re extending the bullpen, putting them in a vulnerable place,” Cobb said. “If it was just 10 days to just catch a breather and get back out there, when you come back you’re able to not be on as short of a pitch count.”
Returning from a three-week absence, Cobb will be on a pitch count and an innings limit Sunday against the Pirates, though neither he nor manager Gabe Kapler were willing to get more specific.
Although Cobb was able to continue throwing on the side, “that’s a good bit of time,” he said.
Cobb first suffered the lower back injury during a workout between starts in Philadelphia and was scratched from his next start in Miami. When he resumed throwing, he felt stiffness in his neck, which extended his absence enough to make an IL stint the sensible move.
Cobb threw three innings Tuesday in a simulated game at Oracle Park and said he feels good entering his start Sunday.
“The whole situation was kind of challenging. We felt like we were close to avoiding the IL stint and then it just didn’t work out,” Cobb said. “You’re kind of ready to come back before you even go on, so that makes it a little bit longer. Whenever you’re hurt or on the IL you feel like a burden, taking up space and not contributing at all to the team. … It’s just exciting to get back out there and compete again.”
With Cobb making his return Sunday and Anthony DeSclafani anticipated to be activated from the 60-day injured list when is eligible (Tuesday in Atlanta), the Giants are nearing a full-strength Opening Day rotation for the first time since the third week of April.
Yet, after Carlos Rodón’s eight shutout innings Friday night, the Giants rotation was tied with Boston for the lowest ERA in the majors during the month of June (2.00).
“The potential’s there for us to rattle off a quality outing every single night and give your team a chance to win. That’s what we’re doing right now,” said Cobb, who has a 5.73 ERA in eight starts but an expected number of 2.06, the widest gap in the majors. “It’s gonna be nice to jump in and be a part of that and hopefully keep that streak going.”
Jakob Junis (Grade 2 hamstring strain), who filled in when DeSclafani went down and had a 2.63 ERA in 48 innings (seven starts), is still 4-6 weeks away from rejoining the team. But once he’s ready, Cobb suggested they could go to a six-man rotation.
“Woody and Webby and Carlos have been grinding every start and packing on some innings,” Cobb said. “So maybe give them a breather down the road.”
Crawford drops down
Shortstop Brandon Crawford was penciled in to the eight hole Saturday for the second consecutive game, a position in the batting order he hadn’t assumed since the first month of the season last year.
Crawford has struggled to regain the form that made him a critical piece of the Giants’ 107-win team last season, with a batting line of .219/.308/.348 in 201 at-bats to begin this season. However, his lower position in the Giants’ lineup recently was “certainly not an indictment of Craw,” Kapler said.
“We know Craw has plenty of talent and athleticism and hitting prowess to sit right in the middle of our lineup. He’s gone through a few struggles here and there. Those are things I know he’s working hard at,” Kapler said. “When Craw is doing Craw things, he’s right in the middle of our lineup, and I would expect the same once we get him back to where he wants to be and where we know he can be.”
Contributed by local news sources