SARASOTA, Fla. - No matter what happens today when right-hander Alex Cobb makes his first spring start for the Orioles, he’s well ahead of where he was at this time last year. This time last year he was a free agent looking for a team.
On March 21 he was signed to a four-year deal by the Orioles. The late signing led to a late start to his season, a rushed attempt to get him ready. He pitched in his first game for the Orioles April 14 at Boston. He allowed 15 runs in seven innings his first two games and had an ERA of 6.80 at the end of May and 6.75 when June ended.
But Cobb had a strong second half to finish his 2018 season at 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA. In 11 starts after the All-Star break, he went 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA, .232 batting average against and 1.156 WHIP. His ERA was fifth in the American League among pitchers who made at least 10 starts after the break.
Cobb and the Orioles hope he can show that form from opening day on this year, and he has to be considered a strong candidate to make that opening day start on March 28 at Yankee Stadium.
Cobb said he likes the atmosphere in the Orioles training camp. Cobb once played for manager Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay, and first-year Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Cubs last season. Both managers run spring camps that have a more relaxed vibe.
“I can see some similarities there, but he’s definitely got his own spin, his own style to it,” the 31-year-old Cobb said of Hyde. “I think the foundation and core of their beliefs are very similar. We’re trying to make sure that everybody can be themselves and isn’t afraid out there or playing scared. That they are having fun. He’s really done a good job getting everyone to buy in and want to work for the guy next to him. And that is not easy to do or create this early in camp. But he’s done a good job.”
It has made for a camp, Cobb feels, where the many young players are confident and ready to show what they can do.
“I see guys all the time with much more skill set than some other guys. They come up, but for some reason are not able to capture that in the big leagues. We see prospects all the time fizzle out. And you wonder why, and it really does come down to that. Is that guy comfortable and is that guy able to relax and know that he is allowed to fail?
“I think when you know you are now allowed to fail, you take a deep breath and you are able to execute and fill your potential a lot easier. You know that starts with the manager, but it also goes into the clubhouse with the older guys and making sure those guys are doing the right thing. But making sure they can do it without the stressful nature of that.”
If a young player needs someone to show him the way here in Sarasota, Cobb said, the veterans will happily help a teammate.
“It’s hard to speak for everybody else, but I know in my own situation right now, you sign up wanting to compete for four years with an organization. That didn’t end up happening, so you sit back and kind of re-examine the path that is in front of you and what the organization is looking like.
“You realize that you are given an incredible opportunity to put on a big league uniform. What’s in front of me right now is a bunch of young guys that would give anything to be able to be in the game as long as I have. So our job now is to help them fulfill the potential that they have and help them be able to get the life that we have from this game. It is a fun opportunity. We are building the foundation for this organization to grow. And getting the young guys going is the best way to do that, so I enjoy where I’m at,” he said.
Check out Orioles.com today: When the Orioles (3-2-1) host the Rays in Sarasota this afternoon, I’ll have the play-by-play call at Orioles.com and the MLB At Bat app beginning at 1 p.m. It’s the fifth of 16 such broadcasts from spring training on Orioles.com.
Cobb faces Rays right-hander Charlie Morton in a good pitching matchup, even though neither starter will go deep into the game. The Rays signed Morton to a two-year free agent deal worth $30 million with a club option for 2021.
Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz had another solid game for the Orioles in yesterday’s 5-5 tie versus the Phillies in Clearwater. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI. He is batting .500 (7-for-14) in the spring games with a homer and three RBIs.
Can Diaz win an opening day job on this team, or should he go back and begin the year on the farm, even if he has a strong spring?