BOWIE, Md. - Just as the Orioles rotation is starting to produce positive results, providing a real lift to a team in the midst of a brutally tough schedule, a key reinforcement is about to be added to the mix.
Right-hander Alex Cobb, signed on March 21, has now made four essentially spring training-type outings and his season is about to begin for real. Cobb joins the improved O's rotation on Saturday afternoon at Boston. He jumps right into the fire, so to speak, with his Orioles debut in Fenway Park.
So far Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner have combined for a 1.89 ERA and five quality starts in six games. Throw in Kevin Gausman and that trio has allowed three earned runs or less in seven of their nine starts. Gausman's ERA is 4.09 in his last two starts.
While the jury is still very much out on right-hander Chris Tillman, adding Cobb to the Bundy-Cashner-Gausman trio gives the Orioles the chance to have a solid rotation and maybe even a formidable one.
I watched Cobb throw his bullpen session Wednesday afternoon at Double-A Bowie's Prince George's Stadium and now he's ready to enter the rotation and be part of a team within a team.
"There is such a bond in a rotation when you go through a year together," Cobb said. "You get so close with the guys on the team in the rotation. You bounce ideas off each other. It's a camaraderie that doesn't take place in any other sport I don't think. Watching what they've been doing and wanting to contribute to that, the desire is pretty strong on my end. We'll do what we can to hit the ground running and try to add to that momentum. This rotation is starting to come together."
Cobb obviously started his spring training late and since his signing he has had a spring unlike any he's had before. He crammed four Florida starts into a short time, pitching three times in simulated games and on Monday against Twins minor leaguers in an extended spring game, going six innings and 93 pitches.
"I can see the normalcy starting to take place where I will be with the team," he said. "Watching them on TV, I'm real excited to get in the lockerroom and see the energy these guys bring. And hopefully bring some excitement to the team as well and put some quality starts together so we can get a nice run going."
In throwing outings of 60, 48, 74 and 93 pitches, Cobb has built up his arm and innings count and he said he feels ready for his start at Fenway Park.
"I feel like I just left spring training," he added. "You're sharp a lot of days and some days you are a little bit off. And as the season goes on, that kind of plays itself out and you start getting more sharp and the adjustments come a lot easier. I feel pretty normal to where I would be after spring training heading up north for the season."
Cobb went 12-10 with an ERA of 3.66 in 29 starts for Tampa Bay last year. In nine combined starts versus Boston, New York and Toronto, Cobb went 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA. In 36 career starts versus those three clubs, he is 15-11 with a 3.21 ERA.
During a career where he has gone 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA for Tampa Bay, Cobb has often leaned heavily on his split-finger pitch as an outstanding changeup. It has been at times a swing and miss pitch. But after his Tommy John surgery in May of 2015, the feel for the pitch was never quite there last season and he threw the pitch much less than he had most of his career. He was pitching well for the Rays in 2017, but mostly with a fastball-curveball two-pitch combo. But Cobb said that in Florida the last few weeks, he re-discovered the feel for the pitch. That could be a key to his 2018 season.
"It was the best it has been this last start I had," he said. "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 seems very excited to be an Oriole. He said he really appreciated how the organization sought his input on how to handle the last few weeks. He sounds like a player that admired the Orioles over the years from the other dugout, but now is thrilled to be in orange and black.
"You can try to relate to what an organization will be like from the outside and seeing how they go about their business," Cobb said. "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."