Cobb confident so far in his health (plus guest instructor note)

SARASOTA, Fla. - Alex Cobb arrived in Orioles camp this week with a neatly groomed beard, much shorter than his usual look. Almost as if he forgot to shave for a couple of days.

The veteran right-hander simply wanted to try something different.

Something that might improve his luck and keep him on the mound this season, his third with the Orioles after signing a four-year, $57 million deal - the richest in franchise history for a pitcher.

Cobb-Delivers-Black-Wide-Sidebar.jpgCobb, 32, made it through three starts in April before undergoing hip and knee surgeries in Nashville, Tenn. He was hurt during spring training, tried to stay off the injured list and failed.

Bullpen sessions last month and yesterday have kept Cobb and the club optimistic about his availability on opening day.

“I feel great,” he said this morning. “At least for my day-to-day right now. I’m excited to see how it responds just being on my feet every day here, doing PFPs, throwing bullpens and then obviously when we get in games and the ups and downs with innings.

“Right now I can’t report anything negative. It’s been great.”

Cobb had his surgeries back in June after posting a 10.95 ERA and 1.865 WHIP with nine home runs surrendered in 12 1/3 innings. The gap between those procedures and the report date enabled him to be full-go in camp.

“The plan behind the whole timing of the surgery was mostly based on the ability to have a normal offseason, so everything I did was like every other previous offseason,” he said. “It’s usually right around the holidays, a little bit before, you start picking up a ball and getting the arm going again. So it was the same this year.”

Nothing has happened to keep him off the active roster on March 26, though there will be more hurdles to clear.

“Standing here right now, yeah,” he said. “The biggest thing is going to be all of us, the coaching staff and training staff getting together and seeing how my body responds. We don’t foresee anything going on, but you’re going to have to wait and see. Those muscles are still getting stronger and still rebuilding up. I hope it will be a very smooth spring, but that’s the case for everybody in camp right now and every camp I’ve been a part of.”

The inability to live up to the club’s financial commitment eats away at Cobb, who’s gone 5-17 with a 5.36 ERA and 1.445 WHIP in 31 starts. Blisters on his pitching hand forced him to miss starts or come out early in 2018.

“You sign going into that season with such high expectations not only for yourself but for the team, and it’s been everything but that. So it has been frustrating,” he said.

“Sitting and watching a team from your house is one of the worst feelings you can do as a professional athlete, but it reignites you. It really does. There’s an energy about it and you feel like you’re missing out. You feel like you’re away. You get this added motivation that I don’t think you can get any other way. It makes you hungry, it makes you appreciate when you are out on the field.

“You have to put all that aside of feeling like you’re not living up to expectations and doing those sorts of things and just know that you can’t fix what happened and the only way to fix it is be good going forward. That’s the only thing my vision’s on right now, is to perform this upcoming season.”

Cobb said he took in every game last season as the Orioles posted the second-worst record in baseball during their first full year of the rebuild. He imagined how he’d attack certain hitters. He tried to keep from feeling worse about his situation.

“I think being around this game since I was a little kid, you just process everything that’s going on and your subconscious almost takes over,” he said. “Watching the games on TV, you’re kind of playing along with what you would be doing in a situation. It’s something that I actually learned going through Tommy John, was to try to keep that part of your brain sharp and don’t just get in this - almost like what I envision retirement to be like - just kind of letting your mind get away from baseball. You try to stay in the mix of it as much as you can and play along with it.

“I do think it helps you once you get back to be sharp and those instincts stay sharp as you go throughout the season.”

Cobb would have made his first career opening day start if not for his injury. It won’t be one of his goals in this year’s camp.

Too much has happened to him.

“Oh no, far from,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate on any of that. I just want to go out and pitch and be healthy. Those personal goals, really, go out the window when you’re this far behind where you feel like you should be, and you have to really just kind of take baby steps and rearrange your priorities and try to get healthy.

“I just want to play, I just want to pitch. I just want to get in that competitive atmosphere again and just go and compete. You don’t worry about all those little things that you do think about when things are going well.”

Cobb can serve as a mentor on a young staff as well as supplying innings that the rotation desperately needs with so many uncertainties and Dylan Bundy in the Angels’ camp.

“It’s very important,” said left-hander John Means, who will vie with Cobb for the opening day assignment. “It’s that leadership in the starting rotation that we need. We’ve got a little bit with Cash (Andrew Cashner) last year, and to not have him and Cobb, it was kind of tough. To have a guy with that much experience who’s had that much success is huge.”

* The Orioles announced six guest instructors in camp, including former shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder Jeff Conine.

Also in camp are Mike Bordick, Brian Roberts, Ben McDonald and Scott McGregor. Bordick, Roberts and McDonald also are part of the broadcast team.

Conine played for the Orioles from 1999-2003 and again in 2006. He most recently worked in the Marlins front office.

Hardy played for the Orioles from 2011-17 and won three Gold Gloves. The Orioles made the playoffs three times during his tenure.

* Pitchers who are throwing in the bullpen today include Means, Wade LeBlanc, Michael Rucker, Dean Kremer, Hunter Harvey, Richard Bleier, Alex Wells, Asher Wojciechowski, Brandon Bailey, Evan Phillips, Eric Hanhold, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Mychal Givens, Shawn Armstrong, Travis Lakins and Cole Sulser.

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