SAN FRANCISCO — In the top of the fifth inning on Monday, Cleveland Guardians shortstop Jose Tena hit a grounder to first. Alex Cobb broke from the mound and then shut it down when he saw that LaMonte Wade Jr. would take it himself. Four pitches later, Cobb again had to sprint toward first on a grounder to Wade.
On any other night and for just about any other pitcher, that would just be a bit of cardio late in a start. But Giants catcher Joey Bart recognized that Cobb isn’t quite himself right now, and he walked slowly out to the mound to give the 35-year-old a minute to take inventory.
That might be how the rest of the season goes for Cobb, who has a left hip impingement and had this start pushed back because he received a cortisone shot. The All-Star was checked by trainer Dave Groeschner after just nine pitches on Monday, but he made it through five innings, saving the bullpen and helping to set up a 5-4 win.
About three hours and 15 minutes before Blake Sabol tied it and LaMonte Wade Jr. won it, Cobb threw a pitch and felt a jolt of pain. He had hoped the cortisone shot would relieve the discomfort that has bothered him since early June, but in that moment he came to a cruel realization. This is likely how it's going to be until he throws his final pitch of 2023.
"Now I have to reassess and realize I'm probably going to deal with some issues the rest of the year," Cobb said.
He is hopeful that this is something he has to deal with for a couple of months as the Giants make a run, even if it can make for uncomfortable nights. Cobb hobbled off the mound at times Monday and looked to even be in some pain as he walked down the dugout steps, but he gave the Giants five innings and allowed just two runs, both unearned because they came after a two-out error.
"Early in the game we weren't sure if we would get two from him, let alone five," Kapler said. "It was a gutsy performance."
San Francisco Giants
It was needed, too. As the Giants struggled to pull away, the visiting scoreboard showed the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs closing out one-run wins. The Giants kept pace, and they used 18 players while doing so.
Cobb wasn't the only one to need extra treatment after the game. J.D. Davis was pulled with back tightness and Sabol took two foul tips off his lower body before his late contributions, including one that caught him square in an unfortunate spot.
The Giants expect Davis back on Wednesday and Sabol was back to normal after the adrenaline of the walk-off celebration, but Cobb's issue will linger. He said he has peace of mind because pitching through the impingement won't do any lasting damage, but there are plenty of "zingers," as he put it, when he finishes pitches.
Cobb and the staff have been managing the discomfort for a couple of months and he said that makes things a bit easier. Groeschner and Kapler helped him stall after just two batters, and Bart did the same in the fifth. For all that MLB has done to speed up games, there are still plenty of ways to make sure your pitcher gets a moment of recovery, and the Giants know all of them.
They gave Cobb extra rest before this start and have enough bullpen depth to do it again if they need to, but Kapler doesn't anticipate changing his rotation plans too often.
"Alex is about as competitive a pitcher as I've seen and he always wants the ball, is always going to try to give the team an additional inning," Kapler said. "He wants the big moment and he's prepared for the big moment. He doesn't get out-competed, but sometimes his health is going to dictate if he's able to go five innings like today or nine innings like he did on the near-no-hitter. It's just going to be start to start with him."
Cobb hopes that it all leads to starts in October, which have been rare in his career. He has just two postseason appearances, both coming in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Asked if he would have made Monday's start if the Giants were out of the race, Cobb smiled and said he didn't want to deal in hypotheticals.
"We are in it," he said. "It definitely makes it a lot easier to go out there and pitch when you're fighting for something."