O’s game blog: Alex Cobb makes his Orioles debut

The time has finally come for new Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb. After signing with the club on March 21 and making four starts in Florida, Cobb’s first game for the Orioles is set for this afternoon at Fenway Park.

The 30-year-old right-hander was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. His ERA was 4.52 after his first 12 starts. But in his last 17, Cobb went 8-5 with an ERA of 3.07, allowing three earned runs or less 14 times. He set career highs in wins, innings (179 1/3) and starts (29).

The Orioles have to love Cobb’s record against the other three American League East teams. He has obviously never faced Tampa Bay. That was the only team he’s ever pitched for until today. Last season, Cobb went 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA in nine starts against Boston, New York and Toronto. In five starts versus Boston last season he went 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA. In 14 career starts, he is 6-4 with a 3.43 ERA against Boston.

Cobb made an impressive comeback from Tommy John surgery, which was performed by Dr. James Andrews on May 14, 2015. It limited him to five starts in 2016 and all five came in September. But he threw well in 2017, when he relied heavily on his two-seam sinker, threw his curveball a career-high 34 percent and his split-finger changeup a career-low 14 percent. Cobb has said he believes he now has a good feel for his splitter and that the pitch is going to re-emerge as a factor for him this season.

While his ERA was 2.46 at home in 2017, it was 4.72 on the road. Also, for some reason, Cobb struggled versus the bottom of batting orders, allowing a combined .299 batting average to the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters. The major league average was .246.

Quoting Cobb:

On his four starts in Florida against minor league batters: “You try to play the situation as normal as possible. It is a little bit difficult because of the experience level of the hitters you are facing. They are not thinking the same way that a big league hitter would. The set up and mental part of the game is non-existent. You don’t think along those lines. What you try to do is make sure the sharpness of your pitches is there. I constantly got better each time out and that is what spring training is.

“Buck (Showalter) and front office seem to really pay attention to detail. We did as good a job as we could with throwing games in the stadium down there and having good umpires come. Whether it was a sim game or an extended game. That helped us to make the process more normal.”

alex-cobb-rays.jpgCobb on getting the feel for his splitter back: “It was the best it has been this last start I had. I’m really feeling confident in it. Going through that phase early last year, I lost the confidence in it. That was a main reason I shied away from it. Once you start having that success with it and seeing the action you are looking for, that confidence builds up very quickly. That is key on all your pitches, but with a changeup, a feel pitch, you have to have that consistent arm speed and aggressiveness you have on the other pitches. Having that confidence come back is going to be huge.”

Cobb is excited to be an Oriole: “You can try to relate to what an organization will be like from the outside and seeing how they go about their business. But this is a baseball organization. A red-blooded baseball team that does things the right way. The confidence that they’ve shown in me and just the excitement from watching the potential this team has shown early on and facing them all these years, I know that this team is a playoff team. And that excites me more than anything.”

Right-hander Hector Velazquez (1-0, 3.12 ERA) gets the start for Boston. The 29-year-old Velazquez has pitched three times this season, once as a starter and each time against Tampa Bay. On April 1 he got the start allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox signed Velazquez out of the Mexican League in February of 2017 and he spent most of the year pitching at Triple-A after seven seasons in the Mexican League. This winter Baseball America ranked him as the No. 20 Boston prospect.

He averages 92.6 mph on his four-seam fastball and has thrown his fastball 62 percent of the time this year, throwing his changeup 27 percent and a slider 11 percent.

Boston is an American League best 11-2 after last night’s win over the Orioles. That includes a 9-2 mark in AL East games and a 6-1 mark at home. The Orioles, who have lost three of four, are 5-9 overall, 4-4 on the road and 3-5 against the division.

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