CLEVELAND - The losses hurt like line drives hit up the middle. And Alex Cobb just can’t seem to avoid them.
A pitcher’s record doesn’t provide the most accurate read on a season. The Mariners’ Felix Hernandez was voted the American League Cy Young Award in 2010 and he was one game above .500. One of Kevin Gausman’s parting gifts earlier this summer was a no-decision after nine scoreless innings in Oakland. But Cobb sees “3-15” beside his name and is embarrassed.
Leading the majors in defeats is like that line drive landing flush on the shin bone.
“It’s tough,” Cobb said yesterday from a corner of the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field. “You see it and I think a lot of people might not be as educated on what a win-loss record dictates or reflects on what you did over the course of a season.
“When you see 3-15, it’s just ugly, it’s just bad. And my whole career I’ve taken a lot of pride in having a good win-loss record. I feel like when you have the ball in your hand you dictate what’s going to happen that day and for the most part if you do everything right, it might not reflect every game on how you did, but for the most part it’s going to look respectable at the end of the year, and it just hasn’t gone that way this year.
“I’ve lost every game that I deserved to lose with the stat line, but I’ve also lost a lot of games that maybe I shouldn’t have lost and that’s how you lead the league in losses. I feel like I run into a lot of hot pitchers on the day I pitch. Sometimes it falls that way over the course of a season. But it doesn’t change your outlook and what you’re trying to do each and every time out there. You’re trying to win the ballgame and you find some ways to get by and really reflect positively on some of the things you did throughout the course of the game, whether you got that win or loss.”
Cobb has allowed only three earned runs in 20 innings this month as he prepares for today’s assignment against the Indians. His streak of quality starts has reached four in a row, with six in his last eight outings, and his ERA is down to a season-low 5.31.
Regaining the effectiveness of his split-changeup has made Cobb resemble the pitcher who compiled a 48-35 record in six seasons with the Rays, accompanied by a 3.50 ERA, before he signed a four-year, $57 million contract with the Orioles in spring training.
“The split. Three-pitch mix,” said manager Buck Showalter.
“He’s got a real feel for the split. I think that’s one of the byproducts of spring, that you go through periods that you have it and then you don’t have it. It’s such a feel pitch and I think that’s one thing that’s really stood out for me.”
Cobb didn’t sign until March 21, causing him to miss a significant chunk of spring training. His regular season debut was delayed until April 14 and he registered a 13.11 ERA in three April starts, allowing 17 earned runs (20 total) and 30 hits in only 11 2/3 innings.
Look at him now. Divert your eyes from his loss total and check out how he’s pitching.
“It’s not even a comparison that I can even quantify, really,” Cobb said. “All things considered, just feeling comfortable on the mound and then obviously having my changeup back for the most part - I don’t want to speak too soon - but it feels like it’s been there pretty consistently over the past five, six starts. Having a third pitch to go through a lineup is a must-need and especially when it was my best pitch coming up and through my early career in the big leagues. It’s been a lot easier to navigate through a lineup with that.
“Overall, just being out there and the reps that I’ve had throughout the season. It was tough early on, just really not having any idea what I was doing out there, missing location, not really having much off-speed. It was just a recipe for disaster. Basically, what the first half looked like numbers-wise was the way I felt and I’ve been feeling a lot better lately.
“Just really trying to work heard every day to capture what I’m doing, what I’m feeling, and be able to take that into each start and into the offseason and into the next season.”
At least Cobb will be able to set his own report date for spring training if he chooses an early arrival, when he wants to show up at the Ed Smith Stadium complex and begin to throw. No free agent process dragging along, creating stress and putting him behind.
We’ll never truly know how much a truncated spring impacted Cobb, but there seems to be plenty of evidence that it stalled him coming out of the gate.
“It’s not even worth speculating on, honestly,” he said. “I think obviously we have spring training for a reason and it’s six weeks long and it’s six weeks long for pitchers to get ready and get in shape. It’s frustrating that it worked out the way it did in the off-season. I don’t even know the circumstances that went into it, why the market was so slow to develop. Not even hearing from teams until that late in the offseason. But whatever the reasons were, it kept me from being able to go out there and get the work in that I needed during spring training. And it obviously had an effect going into the season.
“Not just for me, for a lot of free agents. Every guy I think that signed late got off to a slow start except for probably (Red Sox outfielder) J.D. Martinez. They’ve all kind of righted the ship in some sort of way.
“It’s not worth thinking too much, dwelling on, wishing things were different. It was what it was and I did my best to try to get up to speed as quick as possible. I can rest at night knowing I did what I could to try to get right. It wasn’t a lack of effort trying to get to where I am right now. But I really wish it came sooner, obviously.”
Cobb is 3-2 with a 3.64 ERA and 1.416 WHIP in five career starts against the Indians over 29 2/3 innings. He’s 2-1 with a 4.74 ERA and 1.316 WHIP in three starts at Progressive Field over 19 innings.