Orioles starter Alex Cobb threw one damaging pitch during the seven innings he pitched in Monday’s interleague matchup against the Washington Nationals at Camden Yards, but he lost anyway.
That seems to be his jam through his first two months in the Orioles rotation. He obviously struggled in his first few starts after signing with the club late in spring training, but has pitched pretty well since the beginning of May.
Cobb gave up just three runs on five hits over seven innings in a 6-0 loss, but all three of those runs came on one swing by third baseman Anthony Rendon. It was a quality start, but Cobb’s record fell to 1-7 nonetheless.
“That was fun to watch for him,’’ manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s been beating himself up, but that’s more like the guy we know is capable of pitching like that. We’ll take that type of outing against a good club like that any day. We’re just not scoring any runs.”
The only time Cobb has finished a season with a losing record was when he came back from Tommy John surgery at the end of 2016 and made just five starts. That consistency was one of the reasons the Orioles felt he was a good bet to help shore up a rotation that ranked last in the major leagues last year with a 5.70 ERA.
The way the Orioles have been swinging the bat this season, it doesn’t seem to matter that the rotation is far deeper than it was a year ago. The margin of error is so thin for the starters that even Dylan Bundy, who has allowed two runs or fewer in six of his 11 starts, still has just three victories.
Cobb has allowed no more than three runs in five of his six starts this month, for all the good it has done him, but he said after the game that it’s more about the impact on the team than on his personal statistics.
“We want to win ballgames, not on a personal level, just more the team overall,’’ he said. “We’re trying to win ballgames here every night. That’s not what’s happening, but there’s more that we can do as pitchers, picking up the offense when they have tough nights. Collectively, as a team, we’re clicking on different cylinders.”
He got his first Orioles victory two starts ago in Boston, when the O’s offense scored seven runs and stayed awake for almost a whole week. The club’s renewed offensive struggles were not a factor when he took the mound against the Chicago White Sox last week and allowed six runs in just 3 2/3 innings, but the Orioles could not mount any kind of offensive attack against Nats starter Gio Gonzalez on Monday.
A three-run deficit has become a pretty big mountain to climb for the O’s, who have scored three runs or fewer in nine of their past 10 games and have averaged fewer than four runs per game for the entire season. But Cobb said that shouldn’t put extra pressure on the guy on the mound.
“No, this game is such a mental grind that you have to do one pitch at a time whether you’re on offense, pitching or playing defense,’’ he said. “Once that home run I gave up and the team is trailing by three, I can’t go get those three runs off the board. My next job is to get as many outs as I can and keep more runs from scoring and keep your team in it.”
Cobb retired eight of nine batters the first time through the Nationals batting order and got the first two outs of the third inning, but the next five batters reached base. Leadoff hitter Trea Turner singled to center and Cobb walked Bryce Harper before Rendon pulled a fly ball down the left-field line that just cleared the fence near the foul pole.
The exit velocity of Rendon’s homer was just 95 mph, but he picked the right place to hit it, Cobb gave up two more hits in the inning, but would not allow another run. He finished strong, retiring 12 of the last 14 batters he faced, and turned the game over to reliever Richard Bleier.
Bleier was not as fortunate. He allowed three runs in the eighth inning in what was his worst outing of the season.He had allowed just four earned runs in his first 23 appearances this year, so the three he allowed over just two-thirds of an inning Monday nearly doubled his ERA from a team-leading 1.37 to 2.33.