KANSAS CITY -- Eight runs, 13 hits.
That's not usually the type of outing that earns adjectives like "outstanding," "great" or "heroic" to describe a starting pitcher's performance. But that's exactly what Rays manager Joe Maddon said about Alex Cobb.
The Rays right-hander was hit hard by the Royals in an 8-0 loss on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium. But following a day where the Rays used a mess of bullpen arms to sweep a doubleheader, Cobb's eight-inning effort saved the bullpen, and Maddon couldn't have been more proud.
"The average fan may not understand exactly what he did tonight," Maddon said. "It's heroic in a baseball sense because he gave up those five runs, a big lead, he did not cave in. He kept making pitches. He stayed on the mound. He preserved everybody else, which preserves the integrity of the whole group for days. In a baseball sense that was an outstanding performance by [Cobb] tonight."
In Sunday's doubleheader at Philadelphia, Maddon used a total of seven relievers and stated before Monday's series opener that three of his relief arms would be unavailable. As Maddon indicated, an outing like this one can reset the 'pen and have an effect on future game days.
Speaking of outstanding performances and complete games, Royals starter Luke Hochevar held the Rays in check with a seven-hit shutout. Elliot Johnson had two of those hits, going 2-for-3.
The Royals' offense got to Cobb early, scoring a run in the first on an RBI double from Mike Moustakas, before piling on five runs in the bottom of the third. Yuniesky Betancourt drove in two with a single, and Jeff Francoeur, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez also contributed RBI singles.
Still, Cobb remained in the game and went the distance for the first time in his career, allowing eight runs on 13 hits. Cobb wasn't as pleased with his performance as his manager and teammates, but the importance had dawned on him.
"I was sitting in the airport [Sunday] watching the game and following the second game, and just seeing how many arms were used. You know that when it's a bullpen day, they're going to be taxed the next day," Cobb said. "Your first approach is just eat innings, and it was. Fortunately enough, I was able to settle down a bit and eat some of those innings up."
Despite all those runs -- the Royals plated one more in the fourth on a Betancourt sacrifice fly -- Cobb settled down nicely. He allowed just two hits -- including a solo home run to Hosmer -- over the final four innings and finished the night with 113 pitches.
"I could have probably eaten up those innings with a better outing, also. After the third, it was obvious the game was kind of getting out of hand," Cobb said. "I took a different approach and just tried to pitch to contact and get quick outs. Probably should have done that from the beginning. Fortunately enough, some good came out of it."
The last time a Major League pitcher allowed eight runs in a complete game was July 5, 1998, when Seattle's Randy Johnson lost to Texas. So at least Cobb is in good company.
Meanwhile, Hochevar dominated with eight strikeouts and only one walk in earning his fifth victory.
"Early on I was feeling for my breaking ball a little bit but they were spitting on it until I started throwing them for strikes and then they started making adjustments. But about in the fourth inning, I started hitting on them and everything just kind of rolled from there," Hochevar said.
"My take on him is, if you don't get him early and permit him to settle he gets better, which is what he did," Maddon said of Hochevar. "You saw him start making better pitches as the game was in progress. You could see a little bit of uncertainty about him in the first inning or so, but he nailed it after that. He was very good. He had everything going on, everything: his fastball command, comebacker, cutter, breaking ball. He was all over us tonight."
It was the third time this season the Rays had been held scoreless and first since June 5 against the Yankees.
Maddon, though, wasn't going to use his bullpen no matter how big the Royals' lead. Cobb entered the eighth inning with 102 pitches, and had things gotten out of hand, the skipper said he would have gone with a position player, specifically infielder Will Rhymes, on the mound.
Turns out another position player had volunteered his talents, as well.
"We had [Rhymes] secretly warming up in the batting cage just in case," Maddon said. "Hideki [Matsui] was demonstrating he's got a good breaking ball and a changeup and all this stuff, and I thought that was cool. I was going to go with [Rhymes] right there. I just had a gut feeling about it."
Rhymes explained that he hasn't pitched since he was 12 years old, but said Maddon was a couple pitches away from changing that.
"Threw about eight pitches to [Jose] Lobaton in the cage. I think they were all strikes," Rhymes said. "They asked me if I was comfortable with that. I was like, 'Yeah, I don't know if I can throw a strike.' ... Stuff-wise, it would've been like R.A. Dickey minus the movement."
And what about Matsui? Did he secretly throw any pitches?
"He did not," Maddon said. "But he did go through the gesticulations and indicated that he could do that, which I was very pleased with."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.