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Cobb working towards return with rehab start

After six weeks, one rehab start and more losses than they would prefer, the Rays will finally get Alex Cobb back in Thursday's series finale against the A's.

At 4:10 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field, Cobb will toe a Major League rubber for the first time since April 12, when he pitched seven scoreless innings to beat the Reds, 1-0, in Cincinnati.

Cobb, who had been on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain, said his pitch count would most likely stay around 90, depending on how taxing the pitches are that he ends up throwing.

"I'm gonna try to go nine and win, with however many pitches I have," Cobb said. "Pitch-count-wise, I don't know. I think a lot of that will have to do with the type of game that's going on -- if it's a struggle or if it's more of a smooth-type game. I would say somewhere in the 90s would be reasonable."

Manager Joe Maddon confirmed Cobb's estimate before Wednesday night's 3-2 A's victory, saying the pitch count would be 90 to 100 depending on the game situation.

Since Cobb went down with a strained oblique, the AL East cellar-dwelling Rays have gone 12-23. With ace David Price having somewhat of an up-and-down year, Matt Moore out for the season and the back-of-the-rotation pitchers not going deep into games, Cobb's presence in the rotation is much needed.

Of course, Cobb can't be a cure-all for the rotation -- he pitches just once every five days, as he noted Wednesday.

"You know, I don't know what people's expectations are for a guy -- any guy -- to go out there, that's pitching one out of every five days, to have, impact-wise, on the team," Cobb said.

"I'm gonna give everything I have every fifth day, but there's a lot more to a rhythm of a team. So I'm gonna do everything I can, and whatever plays off of that, that's great, but one thing I can't do is go out there and try to win five games at a time."

In three starts before his injury, Cobb went 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA, including back-to-back starts of seven-inning, scoreless baseball. In his most recent outing, his rehab start for Class A Charlotte, Cobb threw five innings and did not allow a run.

Cobb will square off against Oakland's Sonny Gray. Gray is 5-1 with an AL-best 2.10 ERA, and all nine of his outings have been quality starts, a streak no A's pitcher has matched since at least 1914.

That separates him from much of the Rays' rotation, which -- outside of Price (and Cobb in his few starts) -- has not been able to consistently chew up innings.

Gray is also undefeated on the road this year, having gone 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA away from the Coliseum while holding opponents to a .156 average.

Rays: Bullpen shouldering the load
The inability of the Rays' starters to go deep in games is leaving a lot of work for the bullpen.

Tampa Bay's relievers have pitched 162 innings, the most in baseball entering Thursday's games. Maddon said the A's could make it especially hard for starters to get through a lot of innings.

"Oakland is that group, and that's how they put their group together -- you look up and down that lineup, there are some pretty patient hitters that are able to foul off the borderline pitch and get to the next pitch," Maddon said. "That's a big part of their success, and they do it well."

In the Rays' past 26 games, Price is the only starter to pitch as many as seven innings. He did it twice, on May 2 against the Yankees and last Wednesday against Seattle, when he pitched a complete game.

Chris Archer has not reached six innings since April 25. Jake Odorizzi has thrown five innings or fewer in seven of his nine starts. And Erik Bedard has not gone more than six innings -- he exited with one out in the sixth on Wednesday.

A's: Crisp, Lowrie day to day with neck soreness
Coco Crisp joined Jed Lowrie on the sidelines with neck soreness Wednesday, and both were questionable for Thursday's series finale.

"They're a little better," manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday. "Jed's a little ahead of Coco right now, but when Coco turns a corner, he does it in a hurry. He does feel somewhat better today, but this is a day I may have targeted him to be off, anyway."

The same injury recently kept Crisp off the field for seven games, before subsiding over the next three. But it crept up in Tuesday's game, forcing the outfielder out early.

Lowrie, who departed Sunday's game prematurely because of the neck strain, has sat out the past two games, but Melvin expressed hope he would start Thursday.

Worth noting
• When they dropped to 19-27 after Tuesday's game, the Rays matched their worst start through 46 games since 2007, their most recent losing season. They also hit eight games below .500 for the first time since 2007, when they finished 66-96.

• Bedard ended at 49 1/3 innings a career-long streak without surrendering a home run on Wednesday, when he gave up a solo homer to Brandon Moss in the fourth inning. Bedard had not allowed a home run since Sept. 16.

• The A's are 19-2 when scoring first, compared with 11-14 when their opponents score first.

• Oakland's Josh Donaldson has reached base in 26 straight road games, dating back to Sept. 28.

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