Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb’s 2019 debut in many ways lined up with the performance of his splitter: more good than bad.
Cobb left with a lead but finished with a no-decision in Baltimore’s 8-4 loss to the New York Yankees in Thursday’s home opener at Camden Yards. Making his first start after being activated off the injured list, Cobb pitched without issue in his 5 2/3 innings, holding an injury-weakened New York lineup to five hits and two runs, both on solo home runs.
“Felt like I was on the attack more often than not,” Cobb said. “That’s something I’m trying to feel like I’m doing out there. A lot of the time last year, I felt like I was on the defense, and I want to go up there and attack hitters more.”
The splitter had much to do with not only his successes, but his failures. Cobb used the pitch 32 times and generated 10 of his 12 swinging strikes with it, but Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres turned one that Cobb said “didn’t have any action” into a leadoff homer in the third.
From there, Cobb retired 11 of the next 14 batters before New York catcher Gary Sánchez ended Cobb’s 2019 debut at 87 pitches with another solo shot.
“I think that last home run probably hurts a little bit,” Cobb said. “It was an executed pitch. It was up a little bit higher than I probably, looking back on it, would’ve wanted, but I think I had him more set up to go in there and I should’ve probably done that. Those are things that are gonna come and you’re gonna have those reactions and those visions a lot more sharper as the season goes on, so I’m not gonna dwell too much on that one pitch.”
Cobb spent the afternoon working with catcher Jesús Sucre, a one-time battery mate with the Tampa Bay Rays. The pair made 12 starts together in 2017, with Cobb posting a 2.70 ERA in those outings.
But Sucre said the Cobb he saw Thursday was an improvement of the 2017 version. That, too, relates to Cobb’s splitter.
“I think he’s way better ’cause he got the changeup,” Sucre said. “When I had him in Tampa, he didn’t really have that splitter going on like he’s having right now. So, I think he’s way, way better.
“It’s not where he wanted it, but for me, it’s a really good pitch. He’s doing great with the changeup, so I think it’s gonna help him a lot.”
Cobb and Sucre combined for a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play to end the first inning, with Cobb striking out Luke Voit before Sucre caught Aaron Judge trying to steal second.
After Torres’ home run began the third, Cobb ended the inning by striking out Judge, benefiting from Sucre’s frame of a seemingly low 3-1 pitch. He avoided trouble for the rest of his outing until Sánchez’s homer with two outs in the sixth.
The Orioles’ bullpen could not find the same success as Cobb. After replacing Cobb, right-hander Mike Wright served up consecutive singles before Torres cranked a go-ahead three-run homer to deny what would’ve been Cobb’s first win at Camden Yards in two years as an Oriole.
Still, manager Brandon Hyde’s opening comments after the game were about how impressed he was with his starter.
“I think the real positive was Alex Cobb,” Hyde said. “He threw the ball great, really had his split-change going, and really made one bad mistake, but it was great to see him out there for his first start. He gave us a great chance to win.”
Cobb said he understood Hyde’s decision to pull him, especially coming off the groin injury in his final spring start that sent him to the injured list. He expects his teammates to grow from Thursday’s experience.
“It was unfortunate the way it unfolded, but us as a group, as a team, we’re gonna have to learn to take away positives every day,” Cobb said. “I think everybody can go home and point out what they did wrong and try to build off what they did right today.”