Orioles name Alex Cobb opening day starter (O’s down 4-1)

SARASOTA, Fla. - One year after reporting late to Orioles camp as his free agency dragged along and suffering through a miserable stretch in the first half, right-hander Alex Cobb has been chosen as the opening day starter March 28 at Yankee Stadium.

Manager Brandon Hyde shared the news with Cobb this morning, a conversation that turned emotional for both parties.

Cobb-Deliver-Gray-NYY-Sidebar.jpg“He’s real excited,” Hyde said. “Obviously, it’s an honor. He understands that and he’s very, very grateful and I’m just excited to name him starting opening day.

“We talked about it, we hugged, he was really excited about it. A big smile on his face.”

Masahiro Tanaka will oppose Cobb, who makes his next spring start on Saturday in Dunedin.

“I think the longer you’re in the big leagues the more appreciation you have for special things and special moments, and opening day is one of those special moments,” Hyde said. “It’s such an accomplishment to play in the big leagues and to be recognized. It’s a huge accomplishment. So someone like that who’s been around a while doesn’t take that for granted, and obviously by Alex’s reaction he doesn’t take it for granted. He feels great about it.”

Hyde, the first-time major league manager, appreciated how he could share the moment with Cobb.

“I just pulled him aside this morning,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a great feeling. I think anytime you give good news, it’s a great feeling. And to see such a reaction from him, that’s special. Hopefully, we have a lot more of those types of conversations going forward.”

The choice came down to Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy, who drew the assignment last year.

“Opening day is one of 162, but it’s a special day,” Hyde said. “A very special day. And I’ve respected Alex for a long time. We all respect him very much, what he’s done in his career. We feel like he’s earned it. His track record speaks for itself. So we’re just excited about naming him opening day starter.”

Hyde said he didn’t address the topic with Bundy or Cashner.

“This is something that we felt like Alex has earned it and deserves it and we feel really good about it,” Hyde said.

How the rotation lined up wasn’t a factor in choosing Cobb. Cashner’s turn actually falls on March 28 if he pitches every fifth day.

“Naming your opening day starter is about giving it to somebody you feel has earned it,” Hyde said. “It’s a reward of what you’ve done, so we’re still working on two through five, but Alex is going to start on opening day.”

Hyde isn’t ready to anoint a starter for the home opener April 4 against the Yankees. He’s still piecing together the rotation and bullpen with a few weeks left in camp.

“We will in the next, I’d say, four or five days,” Hyde said, “but as of right now I just want to make this about Alex a little bit and let him get the headline of how excited we are to have him start that day.”

Cobb, 31, draws his first opening day start after becoming a first-time father last week. He’s pitched twice this spring and allowed five runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings.

The Rays never ran him out to the mound first during his six seasons in Tampa Bay. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and made only five starts the following year.

“He never started opening day?” Hyde asked. “That makes it more cool.”

The Orioles settled on Cobb over the last few weeks.

“I came into spring training not knowing how a lot of decisions were going to go and still don’t, but this is one we locked in,” Hyde said. “I think I came in with an open mind. Obviously, I know track records with these guys. I know a lot of what they’ve done. We made the decision over the last couple of weeks that Alex was going to be the guy and now we’re still working on the other four.

“There are still moving parts that can happen because of off-days going in, off-day after the first day factors in, so there are still a lot of things. You can put your four and five starters in the bullpen the first couple days if you wanted to.”

The Orioles didn’t sign Cobb to his four-year, $57 million deal until March 21 and the late start factored heavily in his 2-12 record, 6.41 ERA and 1.576 WHIP prior to the All-Star break.

Regaining the feel for his split-changeup, Cobb was 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP in the second half and notched a complete-game victory in Cleveland on Aug. 18.

“We talked a lot about last season,” Hyde said. “I know he feels more comfortable now than he did last year. And missing a spring training, I don’t think anybody understands what that feels like until he kind of went through it last year. I know he’s really looking to bounce back from last year. He feels excited, and we’re excited about how he’s throwing the ball in camp. I think it’s only going to help him, obviously, having the preparation that he didn’t get last year.

“We’re looking for big things from Alex.”

The Orioles have started three different pitchers on opening day over the past three years, including Kevin Gausman in 2017 and Bundy last season. Chris Tillman started three in a row from 2014-16.

Hyde repeated that Nate Karns is more likely to break camp in the bullpen. Karns has worked only one inning in each of his last three appearances, and he retired the Yankees in order last night.

“I talked to Nate this morning,” Hyde said. “He threw the ball great last night. I just want him to break healthy and if that’s going to be ... I’m not going to rush him into anything. I want him to get his feet underneath him in spring training. As of right now it looks like probably start him in the bullpen, but not extend him until he’s ready to be extended.

“I just want to have some appearances where he comes off the mound and feels really good, like he did last night. Pitched last night, threw great, feels great today, so that’s a positive. And I think more of those as you go along, then you maybe extend him or possibly down the road back to back or possibly back in the rotation, possibly a long guy. Whatever it may be. But right now it’s getting good appearances, feeling good coming off the mound, and that’s what we had last night.”

First baseman Chris Davis didn’t report any discomfort in his hip after returning to the lineup last night, receiving two at-bats and stroking a run-scoring single.

“Davis feels good today,” Hyde said. “Happy with the single he had the other way. He’s going to start tomorrow and ramp up his ABs here the last two weeks.”

Update: Cashner surrendered three runs in the second inning to fall behind 3-0. Eric Sogard had a two-run double with two outs and he scored on Richard UreƱa’s single.

Update II: Drew Jackson’s RBI single in the fifth reduced the Jays’ lead to 4-1. Billy McKinney had an RBI single off Yefry Ramirez in the top half.

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