SARASOTA, FLA. — The last time Alex Cobb pitched at Ed Smith Stadium was during his frenzied race to get ready for his mid-April debut after signing with the Orioles in late March. After the Orioles broke camp to begin the 2018 season, Cobb used the facility for simulated games and extended spring training before joining the big league club.
The veteran right-hander said the man who took the mound for live batting practice Tuesday on that same stadium field was nothing like the one who left there last April to pitch in the majors for a new club, ready or not.
"I'm really happy with where everything's at on Feb. 19 or so," Cobb said after his two six-minute stints on the mound. "To not even be into March yet and be where I'm at, I'm really happy with all that. Everything from the conditioning level to the arm soreness that you go through and battled back from, leg soreness, there's a lot of ups and down you have to go through to get to game speed, game mode. I'm really happy with where everything's at."
Cobb, 31, pitched in front of an audience of many of his fellow starters, including Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, David Hess and Hunter Harvey. They were left impressed with how crisp Cobb looked, specifically his split-changeup that he didn't have command of in the first half of the season and rode to a 2.56 ERA in the second half. All three of Jace Peterson, Cedric Mullins and Eric Young Jr. flailed at the pitch and had trouble picking it up from his fastball, giving Cobb some weak contact.
Manager Brandon Hyde, who arrived shortly after a scary moment when Peterson buzzed Cobb with a line drive up the middle just past his head, saw as Cobb's outing improved from there.
"Real good," Hyde said. "I was actually just talking to him. He's really happy with how he threw the ball, threw the ball a little bit better the second time out, the second six minutes. But all positive. I liked the way the ball came out of his hand."
This time last year, Cobb was in contact with the Orioles but waiting for a contract that was still nearly a month away. He was around the team for a few days before the major leaguers went north, leaving him in Sarasota to get ready on an abbreviated schedule. He called that experience "really eye-opening," to see the impact it had on him.
"I realized how important spring training was early on in the season last year, going through the struggles, but now going through it and all the thoughts of the important things that are happening right now, everybody's on the same level right now," Cobb said. "Everybody's failing together, everybody's kind of getting used to getting back into the swing of things together, at the same pace. There's no rushed deadline to try to get it all done, or feel like you've got to try to go on an expedited route that you realize you can settle down, and work on things that are important, so it's been excellent this whole spring so far, being able to easy into things."
Hyde said he's been able to talk through some of that with Cobb, who will be a major part of the Orioles' plans going forward by virtue of his performance or as a trade chip because of the three years remaining on his contract and his pedigree (143 career starts, 3.75 ERA with the Tampa Bay Rays and Orioles). That makes the time he's spending in spring training meaningful to a player who has a leadership role on the young team.
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"We've talked a little bit about his experience from signing late and kind of rushing to get back to the big leagues, so it's really great he's going to have a full camp and be fully ready when the season starts," Hyde said. "This time is valuable in that you kind of can pace yourself to get ready and not rush, and for a guy like him that's going to progress a little bit every week, and be in game shape by the time Opening Day, the first series of the year, I think that's super valuable."