"I feel like i f I had to go out there tomorrow and pitch I could," said Baltimore Orioles LHP John Means when asked about being prepared to pitch.
Orioles veteran starter Alex Cobb has experienced a hurried run-up to the season before. If he’s going to make good on his goal of proving he’s still a high-level pitcher, it will have to go better than it did before.
Cobb was signed by the Orioles in late March 2018 and rushed through simulated games without any real spring training before he made his debut two weeks into the season. He struggled for much of the first half of that season because of how he prepared in the 24 days between signing and pitching in a major league game.
He thinks the shortened preparation for the season will be more successful in 2020 since he won’t be playing catch-up and will be on the same page as his teammates as well as further along physically than he was in 2018.
“We all got a little bit of a taste of spring training,” Cobb said. “I think most guys had two or three outings, and we’re able to take that and go back to our homes and sit on that for a little bit and then there was that three-month gap to where we had to just kind of maintain, so it’s going to come quick. …
“I think most people have that sense and realize it, and they’re doing everything they can — especially our organization. The way we’re going about this spring training that we have is intense. We’re jumping right into games, and having them at night, and there’s going to be some friendly competitions going on between teams, and that’s all great. We’re going to get that feeling of competition back and I think you’ll see for the most part, people took care of their business when they went home and stayed prepared, stayed sharp.”
For Cobb, the 2020 season is another chance to make good on the four-year, $56 million contract he signed ahead of that 2018 season. He admitted Thursday that while he was throwing often and building up his arm ahead of signing with the Orioles that spring — the same type of routine he was in during the shutdown— he was overly careful not to hurt himself and make moot the contract talks that were ongoing for his one true chance at free agency.
He had a 13.11 ERA after three starts and a 6.41 ERA at the All-Star break, though that ended the season at 4.90 thanks to a second half where he found the feel for his split-changeup and had a 2.56 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP after the break.
Cobb and the Orioles believed he was in a good place to replicate that in 2019 before a variety of injuries limited him to three unsuccessful starts and led to hip surgery.
Manager Brandon Hyde has said since camp resumed that the layoff might have helped Cobb after he got a sense of where he was in spring training. The veteran right-hander said he was pleased with how he felt after three innings of live batting practice earlier this week. The real test will be Friday’s planned four-inning outing in the team’s intrasquad game.
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“I was pitching at a really high level early on in my career and coming into this organization,” said Cobb, who came up with the Tampa Bay Rays. “I want really badly to get back to that. It’s really tough when you know your abilities and you’re not reaching them constantly. If I can get back to that this season, that would be tremendous. If I can just get to a good level where I feel comfortable going into next year, that’d be great. I just need to see a lot of improvement. I need to see all the work I’ve been putting in is going to pay off.”
As much as the opportunity to show he can pitch well was enticing, Cobb had a lot to weigh in reporting for the season. His second daughter was born July 3, and he said that it took plenty of conversations with doctors to understand and feel comfortable with coming to play baseball with a newborn and a young child in tow. Once he arrived at camp, Cobb said the work the Orioles put in to making the ballpark compliant with the league’s rules made him feel like it’s the safest place he could be.
That echoes many of his teammates’ thoughts, as they’ve all been happy with how camp has been laid out. He’s also ready for games to begin, if for nothing else than to wash the “disgusting” feeling left by the return-to-play negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association that Cobb thought was too negative and too public on both sides.
“I just hope that once we do start playing that that thought and that taste is out of everybody’s mouth and they just are excited to watch baseball again, because surely every single player just wants to play the game,” Cobb said. “We love the game, but there is a business side to it and we tried to handle it as best as we could, but obviously we fell short of that, and so did MLB.”
Around the horn
Hyde said shortstop José Iglesias (back) would work out before Thursday’s intrasquad game and decide whether to play after that. Iglesias took two at-bats in the game and doubled in both, though he didn’t run for himself. … Left-handers John Means and Ty Blach started the intrasquad game, with Means pitching well through five innings. Blach left in his second inning due to an apparent injury, which prompted pitching coach Doug Brocail to leave his seat in the stands and come to the mound to check on Blach.