ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Cobb continues to make progress in his return from the concussion he sustained on June 15 when Kansas City's Eric Hosmer hit a line drive off the right side of his head.
On Friday, Cobb threw his first bullpen session off of a mound.
"Bullpen went great," Cobb said. "Felt like I did before I got injured. Surprising, because usually you feel a little awkward on the mound when you haven't been out there for a while. It's the most activity we've done since I've [been back]. Getting on the mound is obviously a step in the right direction."
Cobb acknowledged that he doesn't think he's "extremely close" to his return, but he added: "We're moving a lot faster than we expected."
He pointed out that the initial prognosis for his recovery called for him to be playing catch by July 5. Instead, he was throwing off a mound.
"That's kind of a good sign about how things are going," Cobb said. "What we're doing right now is keeping my physical condition up to par with game activities and building up to that right now. So once the other conditions go away, I'll be able to jump back in. It's hard to say when those things are going to go away.
"We're doing a lot of different things to try and get it rolling in the right direction, and we're on the right path. I just can't say a certain date or week or anything along those lines. But the progress is going quickly. It's a great feeling to be out here and one step closer to being back out here in games."
The "other conditions" Cobb spoke of deal with the vertigo he has been suffering.
"In the next couple of weeks, according to what the doctors say, I should see a drastic improvement from where we are right now," Cobb said.
When asked about his next step, Cobb said the plan he's following is like a rehab assignment.
"A bullpen here, a bullpen in maybe two days, then again, see where we're at," Cobb said. "And then kind of just stay on a path to where I'm getting ready for a game. Getting ready to step back on to a game field.
"And get ready to the best we can physically and then once mentally I'm back to normal in my head, I'll be able to jump back out there."
Cobb has passed the first set of concussion tests administered to him, and he anticipates more on the horizon.
"All I hear is that it's very difficult to get cleared," Cobb said. "We haven't finished that process because I'm not ready. But once I am ready to finish with my process of getting physically ready, I shouldn't have a problem passing those."
Cobb, who arguably was the team's most consistent pitcher prior to his injury, managed to find a silver lining within his difficult situation.
"It could be a positive thing," Cobb said. "I could be really fresh when I come back and in better shape, so it could be a really good thing."
In the long run, having David Price miss some time and Cobb missing time, might prove to be a good thing for the Rays.
"As the season progresses, August and September, we could have two fresh arms in Alex and David," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And that's going to be a good thing."
Longoria returns to third; Zobrist gets breather
ST. PETERBURG -- Rays third baseman Evan Longoria returned to the lineup at third base on Friday for the first time since the plantar fasciitis in his right foot flared up and forced him out of the third inning of a June 28 loss to the Tigers.
Longoria took three full days off and served as the Rays' designated hitter during the final three games of their series win against the Astros. Prior to the time off, Longoria was the only Rays player to start in each of the season's first 80 games.
Longoria walked in the eighth inning on Thursday and was removed for pinch-runner Sam Fuld. Manager Joe Maddon jokingly suggested the move fueled Longoria's return.
"He did not want to come out of that game," Maddon said. "He said he was feeling pretty good during the game yesterday. We finally got word that he felt he wanted to play third base. That helps against the righty because it gives Luke Scott a chance to get back in the lineup. I like that, too."
Maddon, however, said he doesn't expect Longoria to retake his hot-corner post on an everyday basis.
Longoria's return was coupled with another abnormal lineup move on Friday: Second baseman Ben Zobrist's name was missing from the lineup card for the first time since June 1.
Zobrist has just one hit in the last five games and has seen his batting average dip 13 points in July.
"He's been grinding it out very harshly, and I want him to back off a little," Maddon said. "He overworks all the time. He's struggling a bit at the plate, so he has taken many more swings. I would rather he take many less swings."
Of Zobrist's 19 at-bats against the Astros, 10 ended in flyouts.
"Sometimes that is an indication of being a little tired," Maddon said. "That was one big fly ball that whole time in Houston. We have to get him back on a line. Permitting him to regroup a little bit is important. After that, hopefully we can convince him not to swing so much. The point of diminishing returns does set in with guys who just want to swing away. It's not always the right way to go."
Longoria could play in All-Star Game if selected
ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite Rays third baseman Evan Longoria's recent struggle with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, manager Joe Maddon would have no qualms about his third baseman playing in the All-Star Game, if selected.
At last count, Longoria ranked fourth in All-Star voting among American League third basemen, behind Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, Baltimore's Manny Machado and Texas' Adrian Beltre.
"If his foot is good over the next 10 days, please play," Maddon said. "If it needs a rest, we'll say he needs a rest at that point but right now, I would say he'll be able to play. If they want his bat, that wouldn't be a bad thing."
Maddon would feel reassured if Longoria were to attend because Tampa Bay's head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield is one of two trainers on American League All-Star manager Jim Leyland's staff.
Maddon also said he expects pitcher Matt Moore, closer Fernando Rodney, shortstop Yunel Escobar and first baseman James Loney to receive All-Star consideration. Results will be revealed Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Sam Strong is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.