With David Price shipped off to the Tigers before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Monday night will represent the first time Alex Cobb takes the hill as Tampa Bay's ace.
Cobb will oppose Jeff Samardzija and the Athletics at O.co Coliseum, as he looks to build upon a string of dominant starts. The 26-year-old right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA and 24 strikeouts over his last three outings.
"The last couple of games, Cobber's been about as good as he can be," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That changeup, right now, is pretty spectacular."
Cobb battled a strained left oblique earlier this season that affected his performance. But he's put any lingering injury concerns aside with his recent play.
"He started off [the season] so well," said Maddon. "The injury came back. He's been finding his way. Now, all of a sudden, he's found his way. Missing him and Matt Moore and what they're able to do for a long period of time, we had to fight through that moment, also. How many wins are in there that we didn't get? I don't know, but I think there were some wins that we didn't get. But, right now, I think Cobber is throwing the ball as good as I've seen him."
"I feel comfortable with my mechanics now," Cobb said. "Every time you go out, 90 percent of the battle is against yourself. Obviously, when you're going up against a really good hitting team like Oakland, you have to make sure that you're extra sharp. [You] have to mentally go along with the game as long as you can, try not to make any dumb mistakes out there -- repeating pitches to the same guy multiple times, or whatever the case may be. You can't get to that point without being comfortable on the mound first."
Samardzija, meanwhile, has been mostly lights out since arriving in Oakland, posting a 3.19 ERA in five starts with the Athletics. After holding the Astros to a run over eight innings on July 24, Samardzija allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings in Houston in his last outing. It wasn't his best effort, but the right-hander kept his team in the game.
"I'm not happy how I pitched," said Samardzija, who failed to go seven innings for the first time with the A's. "It was 1-1. I had a chance to keep it there, and I didn't. "Every pitch and every run is important. But I did keep our offense to where they were in striking distance."
A's: Crisp nearing return
More than a week has passed since outfielder Coco Crisp has appeared in a game, but there are signs he may finally be close to a return.
Melvin said Sunday morning that Crisp was going to hit in the batting cage.
"Usually when he gets on the field or in the cage and starts doing some baseball activity, he tends to respond pretty quickly, so fingers crossed that's the case," said Melvin.
Because of Crisp's progress, the A's have refrained from putting him on the disabled list. But Crisp has missed seven consecutive games because of ongoing neck issues, a detriment to the bench as much as it is to the lineup.
His absence, coupled with Craig Gentry's unavailability, is a big reason why the A's reeled back in Sam Fuld via trade on Thursday. Fuld entered play Sunday 2-for-11 in the leadoff spot since his return.
Rays: K kings
The Rays' pitching staff only needs 18 more strikeouts to reach 1,000 for the season. If it manages to do so by the end of Tuesday night's game in Oakland, it will become the quickest in Major League history to reach 1,000. The 2013 Tigers reached 1,000 strikeouts in their 114th game.
Rays pitchers are on pace for 1,439 strikeouts, which would break the Major League record held by the '13 Tigers (1,428). The Rays club record of 1,383 was set in 2012, which ranks fifth in Major League history.
• According to Mark Simon of ESPN.com, since yielding an infield single to Oakland's Nick Punto on May 20, Brad Boxberger has owned lefties -- who are 0-for-40 with 22 strikeouts and five walks.
• A's right fielder Josh Reddick broke up a James Shields' no-hit bid with a solo home run in the sixth inning on Sunday. The A's haven't been no-hit since July 13, 1991.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.