Orioles pitcher Alex Cobb didn't know what hit him last year, but he's relishing a fresh start

When veteran pitcher Alex Cobb signed a free agent contract with the Orioles almost a year ago, he had every right to believe that the $57 million deal would be life-changing.

He could not have imagined how much.


Of course, that’s a ton of money and Cobb seldom starts any conversation about his decision to accept it from the Orioles without expressing how grateful and blessed he is to be a well-paid major league baseball player. He was just hoping — like everyone else around here — that he would be able to help his new team reach the playoffs in his first season in Baltimore.

Everyone knows how that turned out. Cobb joined the club just nine days before the regular season opened, rushed to get ready to join the O’s rotation and quickly became part of a team-wide collapse that turned a free-agent fueled rush of preseason optimism into a competitive nightmare of historic proportion.


Which is why the Orioles are where they are today, committed to a wide-ranging rebuilding effort that might still be in progress when — and if — Cobb completes the remaining three years on his contract.

It’s apparent from his outlook that he’s still processing all this. The timing of his arrival last spring clearly impacted the way he pitched during the first half of the 2018 season. How could you draw any other conclusion when he was 2-14 in late July and spent most of that time with an earned run average that was nearly twice the career 3.50 ERA he brought to town?

Now, he’s back in a regular routine and will make his first Grapefruit League start today against the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium.

“The most obvious aspect of this whole spring training to me is how important it really is,’’ Cobb said. “Going through it last year I underestimated what it really is to go through a big league spring training and having the ability to progress every single day, and then to fail and progress a little bit more. It hasn’t gone unnoticed this year — the importance of getting a little bit better.”

This was a veteran pitcher whose only other losing record came in 2016, when he was 1-2 during a handful of September starts at the end of his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Still, he refused to consider the frightful beginning of his Orioles career something to be blamed on the slow-developing free agent market and eradicated from memory.

He also refused to quit on himself or his still-tailspinning team, bouncing back and posting an impressive and much more characteristic 2.59 ERA in his last 12 games.

“The writing was on the wall early on,’’ Cobb said. “I think each person handles that differently. I can’t speak for everybody, but as a competitor, any time you have the ability to put on a big league uniform and step on that mound in a major league stadium and perform, you’re playing for so much more. So many other things.

“You’re playing for your reputation. You’re playing for the love of the game. You’re playing for friends and family who are watching who have invested a lot of their time and hard work to get you to where you are. You owe it to a lot of people, not just the organization and the fans, you owe it to all of them to go out and compete.”

Which brings us to 2019 and the likelihood that the Orioles — as a team — probably won’t be in a position to compete very well. If you believe the experts and the analytics, the O’s will lose almost as many games as they did last year, which cannot be a happy prospect for any player on the back nine of his career.

Cobb may have been too honest about that late last season, as his numbers began to improve and the prospect of a looming rebuild left him to wonder if he would ever again be in a position to get back to the playoffs.

He spoke openly about his mixed feelings, which ranged from an understandable concern about his own future to a promise to do whatever he could to help the influx of young players get acclimated at the major league level.

Nothing has changed since then. Well, nothing except the makeup of the front office, the coaching staff and most of the roster. Cobb said he was just stating the obvious.


“You ask anyone in professional baseball whether they want to be part of a rebuild or part of a World Series team, I think you know what the answer’s going to be,” he said. “You’re not looking for this at this point in your career, but it’s what is in front of me. I’m extremely thankful for every opportunity I have to be in the big leagues and you can either be upset with it or you can be thankful and excited to take this chapter of your career and be the best at it as you can.”

The Orioles probably couldn’t find a more qualified role model. Cobb has been through it all. He has come back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He has been a winner for most of his career and when he wasn’t in 2018, he remained consistent in his approach and attitude while he dug himself out of a very deep hole.

“I am excited when I see the look in some of these younger guys’ eyes,’’ he said. “The opportunity that they know they have in front of them for the first time in their careers and they’ve worked so hard to get to that point that you want nothing but to help them and try to steer them in the right direction and show them the right way to do things.”

New manager Brandon Hyde will happily accept the help. The organization has a lot of young pitchers to develop and Cobb appears ready and willing to share his experience one-on-one and lead by example from the mound.

“I think he’s got a lot to offer,’’ Hyde said. “He’s pitched a lot of postseason games. He’s pitched in this division with a contending team. He obviously knows what that feels like. When he says things like that, that just goes to his character and the kind of person he is and the kind of people we need going forward.”

How far forward is anyone’s guess. Cobb is signed through the 2021 season, but if he pitches this year like he did during the final 2 ½ months of last season, he may be a hot commodity at the midseason trading deadline.

“Sure, if you do things the right way in this game and you compete and you play well, good things are going to happen,’’ Cobb said. “You’re going to end up in a good position. It’s not anything you have to shift your focus towards. It has always been my same outlook is to go out on the mound and compete and win ballgames and if I do that, you’re going to be in a good opportunity whether it’s here or somewhere else.”

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