The Orioles may have plenty of uncertainty in their rotation at the start of spring training. They’ve got plenty of candidates competing for spots in the starting five.
Second-year pitching coach Doug Brocail was heaping some big praise on both during an interview on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 FM the Fan this week.
Means came to camp last year as a pitcher who was never considered a top prospect. He could leave camp this season as the opening day starter.
In 2019 he went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA, made the All-Star team and finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting. His ERA was lowest by an O’s starter since Wei-Yin Chen’s 3.34 in 2015. If he had thrown seven more innings to qualify for league leaders, that ERA would have been seventh-best in the AL.
“John Means is a warrior,” Brocail said in the radio interview. “This is a guy that came into spring training (last year), I had him on my list and maybe it was because I was the new guy and I liked what I saw. Saw a guy that went about his work intelligently with a demeanor of, ‘I’m going to win this job.’
“From the get-go I liked what I saw. He’s one of the guys, you make a mound visit and he’ll tell you exactly what he should be doing. He’s not afraid to say, ‘I’m not getting the job done, I need to do this better.’ From his first bullpen it’s been that way.”
And Brocail said, from his first bullpen this spring in Sarasota, Means looks both improved and dialed in.
“He was already hitting spots,” he said. “Curveballs better, sliders better. Changeup doesn’t have as much hop, has a little more sink and fade to it, which is going to really help him. He pitches up and in and down and away to spots. He knows what he is doing out there. This is a kid that worked his tail off to get to this position.
“Things are only going to get better for John. He’s gotten his two breaking balls way better than they were. He is starting to throw them with a little bit more velo. He’s starting to get more tilt and sweep with both of his pitches. You can look one spot, you can’t cover two,” Brocail said of Means, who finished last year pitching to a 3.26 ERA his last eight starts.
As for Cobb, his healthy return is a lift for the team. He made just three starts last April, and later in the summer underwent hip and knee procedures.
Cobb, 32, is beginning his third season of a four-year deal worth $57 million signed in March 2018. He ended that 2018 season pitching to a 2.56 ERA in the second half and had high hopes for last year before a strained groin cost him the opening day start. The two surgeries ensured he would not pitch again until this season.
Brocail says so far, so very good for the right-hander.
“He’s looked really good,” Brocail said. “He came in during mini camp in January and threw for us. We put him on all the units to see how the pitches were looking and very, very surprising to us how well everything came out.
“Look at the hop with his fastball. This is a guy that throws two-seamers, starting to throw a four-seamer. Split looks phenomenal. Has one of the better curveballs in the game and doesn’t utilize it. Our plan with him is (he should) start to use that as a weapon. This is a curveball that, 95 percent of guys that throw curveballs would want to have in the game, and he just doesn’t utilize it because he has such a good split-finger and a fastball attack.”
According to brooksbaseball.net, Cobb threw his curveball a career-high 34 percent of the time in 2017, when he went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 28 starts for Tampa Bay. He posted a WHIP of 1.22 and opponents hit just .232 off his curveball. He threw the pitch 22 percent in 2018 and just 17 percent last year, granted that was in just the three starts.
“Well, it’s going to give him the ability to throw the curveball and four-seamer so it will tunnel together and then the two-seam to both sides. One with a devastating split-finger,” Brocail said. “This is a guy I’m really looking forward to seeing how well the season goes, especially early. I think he’s going to get out of the gates and really do a fine job.”