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BAL@TB: Cobb fans six over seven innings of work

Alex Cobb would rather pitch against the Pirates in Pittsburgh than at home in St. Petersburg. Then, at least, he'd get to hit.

"If I'm gonna face an NL team, I'd rather do it in an NL park," said the Rays right-hander, who will start Tampa Bay's series opener against the Pirates at Tropicana Field on Monday. "If I have to do it, I might as well get something for me."

That won't happen in this series though, where Cobb will still have to face an unfamiliar lineup in an Interleague matchup, but won't have a chance to pick up a bat.

Cobb has put together two strong starts for the Rays -- 13 1/3 total innings, one earned run and 17 strikeouts between them -- since identifying several mechanical issues after a seven-run shelling on June 7 against Seattle.

Cobb said he has been working to correct the issues, which stemmed from him going down the mound too quickly, but that the adjustments have to become second-nature.

"This will be a pretty telling outing, because the first two, I was still pretty mindful of it and really thinking about making adjustments throughout the course of the game," Cobb said on Sunday. "But I think tomorrow should be a good sample for me to see where I'm at in that process."

Matching up against Cobb will be Edinson Volquez, who is coming off his worst start of the season, a 2 1/3-inning, eight-run outing against the Reds.

Volquez is 4-6 with a 4.67 ERA this year for the Pirates, who are in fourth place in the National League Central. The Pirates just took two of three games from the last-place Cubs.

In Pittsburgh's 2-1 win against Chicago on Sunday, Pirates rookie Gregory Polanco saw his franchise-best 11-game career-opening hit streak come to an end with an 0-for-3 performance. He took a walk in his final at-bat.

"Some young players are out for stardom; he isn't -- he's out to be a master craftsman," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of his young right fielder. "Completely different. So I don't think he gets overwhelmed with the hype -- he has a grasp that it'll go the other way as soon as the game goes the other way."

Rays: Former Ray Torres is first to try protective hat
Former Rays relief pitcher Alex Torres became the first big league player to pitch with the MLB-approved protective hat in the Padres' game Saturday

Torres, who was traded to San Diego in January in the deal that included Logan Forsythe and Brad Boxberger, was 4-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 58 innings out of the bullpen for Tampa Bay in 2013. He wore the cap during the eighth inning of the Padres' 4-2 loss to the Dodgers, allowing a run, walking two and striking out two.

Cobb, who was hit in the head with a line drive last June and missed two months of the season, has advocated for the use of protective headgear on the mound, though he has not worn the approved cap in a game.

When told on Sunday afternoon that Torres had pitched with the hat, Cobb said it was "awesome" that he did.

"He's wearing the MLB one? That's cool. You know, it was out there for someone to be the first person to do it," Cobb said.

"A step in the right direction, again, to finally get somebody to get out there and take the risk and be willing to see how it feels, and hopefully I get some feedback on how it went for him."

Pirates: Walker likely to join Pirates in St. Pete
Neil Walker beat the rest of the Pirates to Florida. They all anticipate a happy reunion in a couple days.

The Bucs departed for St. Petersburg following their finale with the Cubs for an Interleague series with the Rays. Walker is already in Bradenton -- about 35 highway miles from Tropicana Field -- for a brief rehab assignment with the Class A Advanced Marauders.

Barring any unexpected setbacks, Walker will rejoin the Bucs during the three-game set against the Rays. Placed on the disabled list following his June 9 appendectomy, the second baseman is eligible for activation on Tuesday.

"I do anticipate [his return during the Tampa Bay series]," said manager Clint Hurdle, possibly not anticipating as eagerly the decision he will have to make when Walker returns.

That will mark the first mutual day on the roster for Walker and right fielder Polanco -- who play the two positions where Josh Harrison has excelled.

Worth noting
• The Rays have won seven of their last 11 games after losing 14 of their previous 15.

• The Pirates' Starling Marte is expected to return to the club on Monday. Marte has been in the Dominican Republic for a personal matter.

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