BRADENTON, Fla. - Alex Cobb figured out what was wrong in the fourth inning. Things went more smoothly afterward.
Cobb labored early but settled to work into the seventh inning of a Tampa Bay Rays split squad's 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
The Pirates put runners on base in each of the first four innings against Cobb. In the fourth, the Pirates took a 3-1 lead on John McDonald's RBI single and Garrett Jones' sacrifice fly.
"I made it a lot easier on myself after that," Cobb said. "I wasn't getting a good angle on all my pitches. Everything was flat and up. I made an adjustment in my lower half to get the ball down in the zone and get some depth to my pitches."
Cobb gave up three runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings, walking three and striking out five.
"It was the most comparable [thing] to a real game that I've felt this spring," said Cobb, who's slated for the No. 4 spot in the Rays' rotation. "I went through my challenges with runners on, working through jams, working through my mechanics, figuring things out. It's a different mentality when you go deeper in the game."
Minor leaguer Stefan Welch hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the eighth inning. Welch, a third baseman who played last season at Double-A, hit a towering shot to right field off Dane De La Rosa. It was Welch's first at-bat in a Grapefruit League game.
In the sixth, the Rays scored three runs to take a 4-3 lead. Ben Zobrist led off with a homer to left field against reliever Mike Zagurski. Matt Joyce singled and Luke Scott doubled to tie it at 3. Scott scored on Shelly Duncan's double.
Pirates starter Jeanmar Gomez worked four innings and allowed one run on three hits. The right-hander walked one and struck out two.
"My release was very good," Gomez said. "Early in the game, I didn't feel as good as I felt in the bullpen. But it got better later in the game."
Gomez is on the fringes of the competition for the No. 5 starter spot, but more likely has a shot at a bullpen job. The right-hander, whom the Pirates acquired via a trade in January, is out of minor league options.
"He held serve today," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There were some sequences when his fastball command was good and he dotted it up well, but then he'd get behind in some counts. The breaking ball was effective. He didn't give up much. He kept battling. It was a work day for him, but he made some improvements."