While the Orioles prepare to close out their series in Houston today and board a flight to New York, the early schedule unforgiving and unfair to a team that’s exhausted itself trying to get its pitching and offense on track - give some love to Mike Wright Jr. if you can spare it - Alex Cobb is back on the mound down in Sarasota and inching closer to his debut.
Cobb is scheduled to go five innings in another simulated environment after working four last week. He’ll blow past the 48 pitches he threw in his last outing.
The organization must decide whether Cobb is ready to join the rotation on April 9 or if he should be stretched out to six innings while on Double-A Bowie’s roster and return to the majors on April 14 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Cobb is 6-4 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.254 WHIP in 14 career starts against the Red Sox and 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.375 WHIP in seven starts in Boston. But Cobb’s readiness to pitch after signing late in camp takes precedence over matchup statistics and the rotation’s ERA beyond Dylan Bundy.
The Baysox are home April 9 but Cobb won’t start for them as long as he’s prohibited from using major league baseballs. Officials for Minor League Baseball met on Monday to revisit the topic and nothing changed. The firm “no” has held throughout the process.
Manager Buck Showalter told the media in Houston that Cobb would start at extended spring training on April 9 if he isn’t recalled. There were initial concerns about placing him on Bowie’s roster and having him throw elsewhere, but it’s not an issue. The assignment police will allow it.
And, yes, he can use major league baseballs in Florida.
The whole thing is so silly. The baseballs should be the same. I’m sure cost is a factor, but it makes no sense to have prospects using one type of ball and then forcing them to adjust after being called up.
* The Orioles are facing their first left-handed starter of the season in Houston’s Dallas Keuchel. One challenge replaced with another. One former Cy Young Award winner swapped out for another.
Keuchel already has a quality start under his belt after holding the Rangers to three runs over six innings on March 30. He’s made six career starts against the Orioles and posted a 2.93 ERA and 1.050 WHIP over 40 innings.
In his only start against the Orioles last season, Keuchel allowed one run and four hits and struck out eight batters over six innings in a 5-2 win at Minute Maid Park.
A right-handed hitting left fielder would make sense against Keuchel, but Colby Rasmus is 3-for-6 with two home runs against him. OK, it’s a small sample size, but Craig Gentry is 4-for-24 (.167) with five strikeouts.
Danny Valencia is 8-for-22 (.364) with two doubles and two home runs against Keuchel and he’s going to be in the lineup, most likely as the designated hitter. Tim Beckham is 4-for-7 with a double and triple.
Chris Davis is 2-for-14 (.143) with five strikeouts against Keuchel.
The Orioles really could use Mark Trumbo tonight, but he’s still on the 10-day disabled list. Trumbo is 7-for-18 (.389) with a double, two triples and three home runs and seven RBIs versus Keuchel.
Bundy is working on an extra day’s rest after shutting out the Twins over seven innings in the opener. He’s 7-5 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.147 WHIP in 14 career starts on five days and opponents are batting .220/.290/.391.
Tonight marks Bundy’s second career start and third appearance against the Astros. He’s allowed eight runs and 10 hits with five walks in 5 1/3 innings.
Two of the walks were intentional in the 13th inning of a May 24, 2016 game at Minute Maid Park. Bundy didn’t retire a batter and took the loss after Tony Kemp’s leadoff triple, the walks and Carlos Correa’s single.
Jose Altuve is 2-for-3 with a double and home run against Bundy. Brian McCann, who’s 1-for-7, is the only player with more than four at-bats.
* The Orioles were quiet yesterday on the transaction front after making two minor league trades Monday and signing Michael Saunders to a minor league contract.
They acquired left-hander Luis Ysla from the Dodgers on Monday for Jesus Liranzo, who was designated for assignment yesterday to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. The Orioles maintain their interest in hard-throwing southpaw relievers, which led them to Joely Rodriguez back in November.
Ysla, 25, has a fastball that plays in the 94-97 mph range and exhibits late life, but control and consistency have been issues. He went a combined 1-5 with a 5.28 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 36 relief appearances last year at Double-A Portland and Tulsa and walked 39 batters in 58 innings.
The delivery is more “violent,” as one person described it, than Rodriguez’s. He’s a good depth piece at Bowie. Nothing wrong with carrying a lefty with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball.
The Giants traded Ysla to the Red Sox in Aug. 2015 for outfielder Alejandro De Aza, two months after the Orioles dealt De Aza to the Red Sox for pitcher Joe Gunkel.