Sarasota, Fla. — Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb, who was recently announced as the team’s Opening Day starter, pitched just one inning in his final start of the spring before leaving with what the team described as right groin soreness.
Cobb retired the Minnesota Twins in order and returned to the dugout to consult Orioles head athletic trainer Brian Ebel before both walked to the clubhouse.
He said after the game that he started feeling something while he was warming up in the bullpen, then felt it grab when he had to cover first base on the first play of the inning. He described the situation as a “little bit” concerning.
“I had to come out of the game for it, but that was purely out of caution,’’ Cobb said. “I probably could have kept going, but it wouldn’t make any sense to. I definitely felt something there that was concerning.”
The severity of the injury is not known, but it casts the timing of Cobb’s first regular-season start into doubt. If he can’t take the mound Thursday against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, either Andrew Cashner or Dylan Bundy would likely make the start in his place.
“Sounds like it’s a mild strain,’’ manager Brandon Hyde said after the Orioles’ 8-7 loss at Ed Smith Stadium. “He’s in there getting treatment right now and we’ll find out how he is tomorrow.
“It just kind of grabbed at him a little bit early, and I think he thought it was OK and he went to cover first and it grabbed on him, so we’ll just see. I have no idea.”
Cobb doesn’t either, so he didn’t want to speculate about his chances of making the Opening Day start, except to say that if the decision comes down to being cautious or pushing himself to pitch Thursday, he’ll opt for the safer route.
“I’ve never really had this, so I really don’t know,’’ he said. “It doesn’t hurt. I’m walking fine, but I don’t think I can make any judgement call or tell you anything more until we see how it feels tomorrow or the next day.”
If Cobb is lost for any length of time, it would be a serious blow to a pitching staff without clear fourth and fifth starters. Hyde has even left open the possibility of using an “opener” in one of those slots.
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That would also be a major disappointment for Cobb, whose first season with the Orioles ran aground after he signed late and missed most of spring training. He suffered through a horrible first half, which was largely attributed to the lack of time to prepare properly for the season.
He rebounded to pitch well in the second half, but that was not reflected in his overall numbers. He finished 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA, easily the worst numbers of his career.
Even though Cobb pitched just one inning, Hyde said it’s still possible for him to make his Opening Day start if the soreness subsides so he can get get in his regular work before Thursday.
“I think so,’’ Hyde said. “He was built up and this was his final start. If he can throw a side in between, that would be great. But as of now, we’ll know more in the next couple days.”
Cobb said he didn’t want to hazard a guess about the likely progress of his recovery, but made it clear he valued the entire season more than one ceremonial start.
“It would obviously be tough [to miss the Opening Day start],’’ he said. “You look at it because it’s going to be a cool moment to be able to be a part of it, but you don’t sacrifice the length what this injury could be because you want to experience that cool moment.
“I hope it doesn’t become an issue and it doesn’t affect that, but at the same time, if it becomes an either-or decision that I have to make, I’m going to decide to make sure this doesn’t become a prolonged, season-long issue that I have to deal with.”