SARASOTA, Fla. - Alex Cobb knew that it was coming. His first career opening day start. He read the pitching chart on the wall and did the math. All of it added up for him.
What remained was the official word from Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, which arrived this morning accompanied by a combination handshake and hug.
“I had some ideas,” said Cobb, who takes the mound on March 28 at Yankee Stadium. “I’ve been to a few spring trainings in my day, so I can map out what the schedule looks like from early on. That’s the only prelude. I saw that the schedule lined up that way.
“I don’t think I did anything that separated myself too much from on the field last year or anything along those lines. ... I had a lot better second half and the organization knows that’s more the pitcher than I am than what happened in the first half.”
Cobb, 31, was supposed to draw the opening day assignment with the Rays in 2015, but an elbow injury led to Tommy John surgery that kept him out for the entire season.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in totally yet,” he said. “I think it probably won’t until I’m walking out and the festivities are going on and the uniform’s put on to walk out on the field.
“I was fortunate to be named it one year and obviously my career took a turn at that point - a few days, maybe a week later. Knock on wood, hopefully be able to go through the rest of spring unscathed and be able to go out there and perform.
“Been a lot of negativity surrounding us - well-deserved, probably - from last year, but hopefully can set the tone, even if it’s just for the day, to have some positives and go out there and compete. Show everybody the team, the guys we have in the clubhouse, all of us together, no matter what happens this year, you’re going to see us go out there and compete. And it’s fun to be able to be on the mound to set that tone early.”
“He had a great second half last year,” Cashner said. “I thought he got off to a tough start with being late, but it’s realty tough getting ready down here with not facing major league hitting.
“We kind of knew. You can see the pitching chart and see how it’s mapped out, so really happy for him.”
Hyde summoned Cobb from across the clubhouse to give him the news, leaving the veteran a bit perplexed and wondering if his morning had taken a turn for the worst.
“He kind of WWE pointed at me and gave me the finger point to come in the other room and I thought I might have been in trouble for a second, and then he shook my hand and didn’t say anything, and then as he was shaking my hand I was like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s telling me something good,” Cobb said.
“I’ve had so much stuff going on with my daughter lately. He’s congratulated me four or five times on that, so maybe it was something to do with that. He told me, ‘We’re going to name you opening day starter,’ and I told him I’d like to act surprised but I kind of already knew. But hearing him say it and it becoming real, it hits you a special way.
“It’s another aspect of things we don’t really talk about too much. It’s a first for him as well, and every manager that gets to do this for their first has been working their entire career to get to where they are, so it’s pretty cool to be able to do that with him and share that moment that opening day is going to be like for him, too.”
Cobb didn’t sign with the Orioles last year until March 21, after Bundy was named the opening day starter. Now he gets the nod, with baseball spinning another curve.
“I just think about how wild of a career I’ve had,” Cobb said. “You can’t predict anything in this game and you never know what challenge or what highs and lows this game is going to bring you on a day to day basis.
“I think, looking back through last year, the difficulties in the offseason and then difficulties in the first half of the season, I think it’s taught me, amongst a lot of other challenges and highs and lows I’ve had, when those good times do come to embrace them and enjoy them, because the lows are very difficult to get through. And if you’re not enjoying the positive moments in your career, you’re really not experiencing the full effect of what your career is.
“I think early on in my career I just kind of expected the good times and dwelled on the bad times, but now I’m going to enjoy a lot more of the good times.”
Life already became so much sweeter for Cobb with the arrival last week of daughter Cloe. An opening day start can’t compare.
“It’s been the best week of my life. Nothing to do with baseball,” he said.
“To see my little girl for the first time and go home and just be able to hold her every single day, I’d be lying to you if baseball’s been on my mind lately. I’ll be able to separate the two and take care of my business, but right now I’m enjoying every single second with her.”
* The Orioles rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the Blue Jays 6-4. David Paulino loaded the bases with no outs and walked Christopher Bostick to force in the tying run. J.C. Escarra followed with a sacrifice fly on a liner to left-center, with Chavez Young making a sensational diving catch, and Stevie Wilkerson added an RBI single.
Cody Carroll retired the side in order in the ninth for the save.
Dwight Smith Jr. came off the bench and collected two hits against his former team.
Hyde said Mark Trumbo, who grounded out twice in his spring debut, might be in Thursday’s lineup.
“Hit two ground balls and had to run them out,” Hyde said. “Came off the field feeling good. I’m going to go check on him right now. There’s a chance he might get a couple more ABs tomorrow if everything goes well. After that second sprint down the line, he felt good. That’s good news.”
Chris Davis will start at first base Thursday.
Cashner avoided his pitch limit in the second inning, needing 29 to get back into the dugout, and went 3 2/3 with three runs and five hits allowed. He walked two batters and struck out four.
“I wanted to try to extend him as long as we could and I was hoping that inning wasn’t going to go any further,” Hyde said. “I thought he had really good stuff. He threw the ball well. Just some mistimed walks. You walk guys that you shouldn’t walk, you have the potential to open up a big inning.
“He did a nice job getting out of the inning. He showed really, really good stuff. I know he’s very happy with his slider. It’s a positive outing. But just from a general standpoint with our pitchers, just being able to eliminate walks to eliminate big innings. It’s going to be big for us.”
Left-hander Tanner Scott created and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, walking two more after issuing only one free pass in his first four innings.
“Nobody’s trying to walk anybody,” Hyde said. “Tanner’s got unbelievable stuff and he’s got lights-out left-handed back-end stuff. Now it’s just kind of honing in on command and being able to use your stuff effectively. Being able to pitch a little bit unpredictable and being aggressive in the strike zone. And when he does that, he’s lights out.”