ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Cobb will take the mound on Friday night at Target Field looking to start himself and the Rays off on the right foot as they head toward the season's stretch run.
"Whenever you're opening a series up, no matter who it's against, it's time to set the tone for the rest of the series," Cobb said. "A little bit beyond that, hopefully we can come out and make a statement that we're ready for the second half."
It's been an up and down season thus far for Cobb, 4-6 with a 4.14 ERA, and spending more than a month on the disabled list has played a part in that. But Cobb said he felt good in his last start, when he allowed two runs and struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings against the Royals, and he threw several times over the break in an attempt to build off that outing.
"Right now, things are starting to get more rhythmic out there. Timing's coming back," Cobb said Thursday at Tropicana Field. "Obviously, when you go through a stretch of struggles that I went through, you spend a little bit of extra time running through your motion and your mechanics in your mind and sometimes you become a little bit too mechanical. Now, everything's starting to flow a little bit nicer."
Cobb threw a normal between-starts bullpen session last Friday, took an extra day off before his next bullpen, played catch Wednesday and threw off the mound during Thursday's optional workout.
Opponents have hit .298/.403/.375 off Cobb this season when the count starts off 1-0, compared to just .176/.213/.261 after a first-pitch strike. That's why manager Joe Maddon emphasized the importance of Cobb's fastball command to his success.
"Everything plays off that," Maddon said. "If he does that, the changeup, the split and the curveball play off that."
Oblique strain sends Hanigan to disabled list
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays placed catcher Ryan Hanigan on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a left oblique strain.
To take Hanigan's spot on the active roster, the Rays selected the contract of catcher Curt Casali from Triple-A Durham. Tampa Bay moved outfielder Wil Myers (right wrist fracture) to the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster. Myers is eligible to return on July 30, but he's more likely due back in mid-August.
Hanigan's stint was made retroactive to July 9, as he sat out Tampa Bay's final four games before the All-Star break, but Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't guarantee that Hanigan would be back after the minimum 15 days.
Hanigan missed time earlier this season with a right hamstring strain, sitting out from May 27-June 11. The 33-year-old catcher, acquired in a three-way trade this past offseason, has hit .212/.309/.327 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 61 games.
"It's tough. We just can't get him going," Maddon said. "He started out so well and then we lost him for a bit, and then he came back and was starting to feel really good.
"It's difficult, but we've had to fight through moments like this before. Hanny's so involved in the game, talking about moment by moment. Brings a lot of definite intensity to the group, so we're going to miss him. We're going to miss him again. But we'll get him well and see if that gets him ready for that stretch drive."
Casali, 24, was hitting .237 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games for Durham. He will be making his Major League debut with the Rays.
All eyes on Price as second half begins
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays played their best baseball of the season over the final month of a disappointing first half, providing reason for optimism within their clubhouse. But as they stand 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East with 65 games remaining, the question remains: Will they trade David Price?
Furthermore, what would the Rays do if Price were traded?
"We've been playing much better baseball. It's not any of our decisions in here to decide what happens and speculate on what could happen," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "Whatever it is, we're going to have to move forward after the Deadline."
Not knowing what his future may hold, Price had to weigh in on it at the All-Star Game in Minnesota. Another rumor came to the surface Thursday afternoon, as FOXSports.com reported that the Rays and Mariners have discussed a deal involving both Price and super utility man Ben Zobrist.
The rest of the Rays know they're in for two more weeks of speculation as they head toward the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and attempt to climb up the AL East standings.
"The one thing that is going to be asked, and I'm sure I'll be asked it again, is, 'Is David going to be here and what happens if he's not here?'" Longoria said. "What happens? We're defintely not going to fold up the tent. The Rays franchise just doesn't end when he -- if he -- doesn't come back after the Deadline. Whatever ends up happening, the next day will be business as usual. We'll try to go out there and win just like we did the day before when the team was like it was before."
Manager Joe Maddon offered a similarly positive message Thursday, still believing the Rays will contend in September if they continue to focus on winning series, but he admitted they have "few, if any, mulligans left." Only one team in the past two decades, the 2006 Twins, has reached the postseason after being at least 9 1/2 games out of a playoff berth at the All-Star break.
"We can't afford any big slipups like we've had in the first half. That could be devastating if that were to happen," Maddon said. "I feel good about it. We've just got to be ready to play on a nightly basis, really have to be ready."
• Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, optioned to the Minor Leagues to get more work amid all the Rays' off-days, is scheduled to start for Class A Advanced Charlotte on Sunday at Clearwater. Hellickson allowed one run on five hits over six innings for Double-A Montgomery last weekend, striking out 11 with no walks.
• Price will be featured Thursday night on The Late Show with David Letterman. During All-Star Game festivities in Minnesota, Price filmed a segment at the Mall of America and Target Field.
• The Rays' 77 home runs in the first half marked their lowest total since 2004. The last time Tampa Bay had only one player with double-digit homers at the break was '05 (Jorge Cantu, 15). The Rays also have only 36 steals this season, the fewest in club history before the break.
• The Rays put together the second-highest strikeout total in Major League history in the first half, with 842. The Tigers set the record last year with 863.