Cobb was born in Boston and moved to Florida at age 2. A Red Sox fan growing up, he still has family in the area who will filter into Fenway Park this weekend.
“Sadly, I was,” he said with a grin. “I regret that.”
Don’t even bring up his excursions to Patriots games.
The Orioles signed Cobb to a four-year, $57 million deal on March 21 and mapped out a gradual progression for him that culminates with his first start. He reflects back on the days spent pitching in simulated games in Sarasota and an extended spring training game on Monday that increased his innings to six and pitch count to 93. It’s a mixture of emotions.
“It’s been a little bit of a wild ride the past, little over a month,” he said this afternoon. “This is the most comfortable I’ve felt just being in this locker room, somewhere I’m familiar with and in a clubhouse around some guys that I know. Just looking forward to getting this whole thing underway. Get my season started and get back to some normalcy in my life. And just looking forward to being in that competing nature and going out there and trying to win a game.”
The Orioles brought Cobb to Camden Yards for opening day ceremonies and immediately put him on a flight back to Florida. He threw a bullpen session this week at Double-A Bowie as the final step before facing major league hitters.
“I think it’s gone kind of fast and slow,” he said. “Certain days just sitting in the hotel room down in Sarasota were going slow, but when I look back on how quickly we tried to build up and everything we tried to accomplish in such a short condensed time, that went by pretty quick.
“It seemed like every day I was just trying to get ready for my next outing and built up and trying to figure out the path we were going to take and this and that. In a baseball sense it went by really quick. And just trying to get everything situated in outside life, away from the park, getting housing and all that stuff situated. That stuff’s been going pretty quick. So, just been a lot of balls juggling up in the air and it’s all starting to settle down a little bit.
“Excited just to get the season going and feel like I’m on a normal routine.”
Only so much can be replicated at the Ed Smith Stadium complex and in bullpens. It wasn’t from a lack of effort or planning.
“They actually did a very good job,” Cobb said. “I’m sure you guys have gotten to know how detail-oriented Buck (Showalter) is and he really did a good job making sure that, even though it wasn’t a normal circumstance, we made it very game-like. Couldn’t help facing the hitters I was facing, but everything else was as normal of a spring training as I think we could get it.
“The day-to-day routine, and when I was in a game, there were umpires. There wasn’t much atmosphere going on just because it was back fields and this and that, but we did as good of a job with what we were dealt with and I’m pretty happy and pretty thankful for the way it went.”
The Orioles couldn’t follow a specific blueprint with Cobb. The circumstances were unusual with such a late signing. And they were working with a new pitcher, not someone with a past tightly bound to them.
They can’t state with absolute certainty that they did everything exactly right.
“Nobody is that smart,” Showalter said. “I’m real comfortable with the patience, because obviously you want to add somebody like him as soon as possible and if you look at the other people in his shoes, we were, I think, even more judicious in when he comes back because we’ve got him here for the long haul. And it might not be perfect the first time out.
“It’s hard to do, especially against these guys, but I feel real comfortable with the amount of time we spent there. He’s still probably going to go through some periods because players and pitchers especially are creatures of habit. First time you really haven’t been through that spring training and all the things that come with it where you have all your little ups and downs. He actually had some of that down there, but I don’t expect it to be (perfect). Who knows?
“I know he’s not using anything as an excuse. He’s been champing at the bit to get back here, but I appreciate his and everybody’s due diligence about making sure that he got everything we could get him.”
Cobb didn’t lounge around the house loading up on carbs and gaining weight during the off-season. He stayed in shape, kept throwing and kept waiting for the right offer to come along.
“You look at a normal spring training,” Showalter said. “What’s different a lot now is that he knew he was going to be pitching for someone. It’s not like he was sitting at home not doing anything. And if you look at his background and his track record, he knows when its right and he knows when it’s not. He’s a pretty easy guy to trust. But to sit here and smugly say we know everything about Alex wouldn’t be fair or true.”
The venue for his debut just feels right. Cobb certainly is comfortable pitching in the American League East from his years with the Rays and he’s 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA in seven starts at Fenway Park.
“This really doesn’t feel abnormal to me at all,” he said. “Walking into the clubhouse and seeing a different color in the locker with the uniforms is the only difference for me right now. It’s the same setup. It’s always a little hectic coming to Boston just because my family’s from Boston, and having them come out and dealing with tickets and stuff like that, but that’s more of a normal type of a situation than what I’ve been dealing with. It feels good.
“Obviously, it’s a very tough lineup. They’re swinging the bats extremely well right now and making the jump from facing Gulf Coast League kids to probably the best lineup in baseball is going to be a little bit of a challenge, but kind of just lean on the experience you’ve had in this division and facing this team in the past. I got to face them three or four times last season, so that all plays to my advantage, but whether I’m midseason form or first start, this is a tough lineup to face and you have to navigate carefully.”
Facing a higher level of competition before today would have been the preferred route for Cobb, of course, but the rule requiring him to use a minor league baseball forced the Orioles to call an audible and send him down to extended spring.
“I think ideally you’d like to do that, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us the way it played out,” he said.
“We tried to make some concessions, but I explained to the front office here how important it was to me to throw the big league ball. That was the more important (thing). Me seeing the action on the pitches is more important than seeing what the hitters are doing, because I know how mistake pitches get handled and how quality-executed pitches get handled. So, it’s more important for me to feel that release point and that sharpness of the pitches.”
Mancini is 16-for-45 (.356) batting first.
Update:Tillman has faced 13 batters in two innings, thrown 48 pitches and fallen behind 5-1. Eduardo Núñez hit a three-run homer in the first.
Update II: Pedro Araujo inherited a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third and only one runner scored on a passed ball. Tillman is charged with six runs and seven hits in two-plus innings, with two walks and no strikeouts, and his ERA increased to 11.91.