Will splitter be there again tonight for Alex Cobb?

Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb is expected to rejoin the rotation tonight, coming off the injured list for the second time this year. When he made his only start of 2019 on April 4 in the home opener, he went 5 2/3 and allowed five hits and two runs versus the New York Yankees.

Cobb threw a heavy percentage of split-finger fastballs in that outing and it was a good sign. Because he did the same in the second half last year when he pitched so well. As the season wore on, his splitter got better and better.

In 11 starts after the 2018 All-Star break, Cobb went 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP. His ERA was fifth in the American League among pitchers who made at least 10 starts after the break.

After signing late last year, on March 21, it seemed to take Cobb a while to get a real feel for his splitter. But late in 2018 it really got going for him. He threw it 37 percent of the time in August and 30 percent in September. And while American League batters hit .300 off the pitch in June, the batting average against the split was .177, .175 and .100 over the last three months of the season.

Cobb-Home-Opener-sidebar.jpgIn that game on April 4, Cobb threw his two-seamer 52 percent of the time and his splitter 37 percent. Cobb got swings and misses on 10 of the 32 splitters he threw that day. He told me that game reminded him somewhat of the feel he had in most of the second half last year.

“I would say at times it felt like the second half on a bad note, which is a good thing,” he said. “Because when it was going really well, it felt like the old me, pre Tommy John surgery. I was able to cruise. I would lose it every once in a while and when I did, I felt like it was more along the lines of last year’s second half. I wasn’t content with the second half of last year. I know I had decent results but it still wasn’t the pitcher I’m looking to become. And during that game against the Yankees it felt like, at times, it really was that pitcher that I’m trying to be.”

And the splitter was on point in that game.

“There were some really good ones, honestly the best splits of my career at times,” said Cobb. “And there were some that were mediocre. The key now is to cut out those mediocre ones and just have the really good ones. That sounds like a no-brainer and easier said than done. But we are talking about millimeters of inches, fragments of degrees to have my delivery in the right place to get that feel.”

Is the split a tough pitch to get that feel for early in the season?

“I think my whole mindset of the pitch is coming back to bite me,” Cobb said. “Because, when I was younger, I wouldn’t even throw the pitch in between starts. I said, ‘My changeup will never leave me. It will always be there. I can roll out of bed and throw it.’ And since the Tommy John surgery (in May 2015) it has been the most difficult pitch, obviously, for me to get back. But I am finally starting to get it. In years past it hadn’t been difficult to come. That is why it can be frustrating for me, because I’ve never really had to put much thought into the pitch.”

On another topic, Cobb pitched from the stretch on all his pitches late in spring training, and again in that game at Camden Yards. And we will likely see that continue.

“It’s for now,” Cobb said. “I love having the thought process of being able to repeat one thing, hopefully 100 times a game. There are no other thoughts going on. Just wipe out having to think about two different type of deliveries. I won’t say I’m banning the windup. For now, I like the simplicity of this. The other thing is, when you need to make your biggest pitches, you are throwing out of the stretch. Runners on base, runners in scoring position. So, let’s get this 100 percent comfortable before we do anything else.”

The Orioles are 8-12 after their win in 11 innings Thursday night over Tampa Bay, 6-5. That win pace would produce a season record of 65-97. That would be an 18-win gain for the Orioles if they kept winning at that percentage.

The Orioles are now 7-9 versus the AL East and they have played twice as many games within the division as any other club. New York is 6-2 in the division, Tampa Bay is 4-2, while Boston and Toronto are both 3-5.

Yep, Delmarva won again: The Single-A Shorebirds beat Greensboro 6-1 to improve to 12-1 with 10 wins in a row. It’s their longest win streak since a team that featured Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop won 11 in a row from April 21-May 2, 2011.

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez got the win, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts. He is now 3-0 with an ERA of 0.54. On the year, over three starts he has thrown 16 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and one run with six walks, 28 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.78. Rodriguez was the club’s top draft pick last year, taken No. 11 overall in round one.

Delmarva got homers last night from Robert Neustrom, Seamus Curran, Doran Turchin and Cadyn Grenier. Adam Hall went 3-for-4 and is batting .340 for Delmarva.

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