Cobb inching closer to return

Right-hander could start rehab assignment soon

Cobb inching closer to return

ST. PETERSBURG -- Several Rays players took the next step in their recoveries from injury on Thursday. Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley pitched in a simulated game, while Steven Souza Jr. took swings in that game.

Cobb threw 35 pitches split up over two "innings," as most of the Rays' coaches and several teammates looked on. He's been sidelined all season as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery.

Cobb will meet with the coaches and trainers on Friday to see how he feels. If he recovers well from throwing on Thursday, they'll likely schedule his first rehab start. However, there's a chance he might have to pitch one more simulated game.

"If you really think about it, this would probably be your last live BP in Spring Training before the teams start coming in and you start hitting that one-inning phase in Spring Training," Cobb said. "Going from past experiences in Spring Training, I feel like I'm right on par with where that is."

Whitley, who had surgery last season while with the Yankees and was claimed off waivers by the Rays on Nov. 20, threw 25 pitches in the simulated game, in between Cobb's outings. Whitley is on a similar timeline to return from Tommy John surgery as Cobb, and manager Kevin Cash could see him playing a big role on the pitching staff once he returns.

"We were excited to acquire him, and to see him actually throwing the ball gets us more excited," Cash said.

Souza took some big cuts against Cobb and Whitley. Souza hit a homer off each pitcher, with the ball hitting the batter's eye in center field. As he jokingly ran the bases, teammates watching chided him that he needed to return.

Souza, who has been on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain since June 16, said he felt good and the tentative plan is to send him to play for Class A Advanced Charlotte on Friday in a rehab appearance with a return to the Rays' lineup sooner rather than later.

"I feel great. It's just a big indicator that I can really explode with my lower half," Souza said. "It feels amazing. I'm just really excited with how everything went."

Brad Boxberger, who has made just one appearance this season and is on the DL with an oblique strain, threw off the mound for the first time on Thursday after playing catch on Monday. The tentative next step to throw off a mound again on Sunday.

Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.