BALTIMORE—There was an unusual sight on the field Monday afternoon. Alex Cobb was throwing a simulated game. Those improvised games are generally reserved for pitchers who are nearly ready to return from the injured list.
Cobb had come off the 10-day injured list on Saturday before the second game of a doubleheader. Then he had an outcome to forget.
In 2 2/3 innings, Cobb equaled his career high by allowing nine runs and 10 hits on a night that ended for the Orioles with Chris Davis pitching because manager Brandon Hyde had nearly exhausted his group of relievers.
It was Cobb’s first outing since his start in the Orioles’ home opener on April 4. Cobb was scheduled to pitch the season opener but couldn’t because of a strained groin. He came off the injured list and pitched creditably against the New York Yankees in his first start, giving up two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings, but then he had back spasms and went back to the IL.
“This past injury was a little unusual, I think, just because I don’t think anybody anticipated, especially me for it to be such a long layoff,” Cobb said.
“I really truly believed when it happened that I’d be OK to make my next start, and then I had a little bit of a setback, and it prolonged it to where it ended up being 16 days. Before you knew it, it was two-plus weeks of nothing. I wasn’t able to run. I wasn’t able to work out. I wasn’t able to throw for the majority of it, especially not at the level where I need to be at, competition-wise, and that game really showed me that I was off.”
Cobb attributed part of his difficulties in last Saturday’s game to baseballs being wound tighter and carrying farther as a result. The Twins hit eight home runs in the game he started. Cobb didn’t talk about the baseballs on Tuesday.
“I thought if I was able to go out there and face some hitters and knock some rust off in a live [batting practice] rather than just kind of sitting on that last outing, it would benefit me in a lot of different areas,” Cobb said.
“Mostly just to have the feel of having a batter in the box. That was the idea being it.”
Twice in his career Cobb has been named a team’s Opening Day starter, but never has been able to fulfill that goal. In 2015, he was set to start for the Tampa Bay Rays, but injured his right elbow, which required Tommy John surgery.
Three years later, just weeks after the birth of his first child, Chloe, he was thrilled to start at Yankee Stadium, but he couldn’t.
“Every year brings its own frustrations, I think,” Cobb said. “I came out of spring training feeling good where I was at, excited to take on the year and make up for last year and out of the blue, that groin strain kind of happened, and I think eventually turned into the back and derailed me from where I was.”
Cobb signed his four-year, $57 million contract with the Orioles in late March 2018, and his late start gave way to a frustrating season in which he went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA. He couldn’t wait to have a full spring training with the Orioles, and he felt things were going well.
“I still carry that confidence throughout that whole time that I was good, and I was going to be sharp, that I was going to be able to run back out to the mound and pick up where I left off,” Cobb said.
“That just obviously wasn’t the reality of that situation. I’m pretty confident that I’ll get back to where I was before this layoff, and when I was in that state, I was very confident to have a successful year.”
When Cobb joined the Orioles, he hoped he could be a key part of a contender. That hasn’t work out as planned.
“I don’t regret it for one second,” Cobb said. “I haven’t delivered on my end even an ounce of the ability that I feel like the team thought that they were signing up to when they signed me to this contract. There have been a lot of different things that have gone into that and reasons why.
“I don’t think there would have been a better place for me to go through what I’m going through in terms of the support system, with the coaching staffs, dating back to last year, and now this year, helping me get through some of the different challenges that I’ve faced since I’ve signed — whether it was the late signing or the little bit of a struggle that I had last game.
“I’m not looking too much into that last game. I’m very happy where I’ve been throughout spring training and in that first game with the Yankees. I need to realize that. I don’t need to go into panic mode and try to overhaul my entire last six months of development.”
The season is still young to Cobb, who should start this weekend at Minnesota. And there are nearly three years left on that contract.
“I don’t regret signing here one bit,” Cobb said. “We’re going through a transition, a lot of young guys, but it’s been enjoyable to try to help build that foundation for the organization and be a part of it.”