He and his wife, Kelly, welcomed their first daughter, Chloe, on Friday. It was a monumental life event that punctuates a tumultuous professional year for Cobb and has him savoring assignments like the one manager Brandon Hyde handed him Wednesday more than ever before.
“You never know what challenge or what highs or lows this game is going to bring you on a day-to-day basis,” Cobb said. “I think looking back through last year, the difficulties of the offseason and the difficulties of the first half of the season, I think it's taught me, amongst a lot of other challenges and highs and lows I've had, that when those good times do come, to embrace them.
“Enjoy them, because the lows are very difficult to get through, and if you're not enjoying the positive moments in your career, then you're really not experiencing the full effect of what your career is. I think early on in my career, I just kind of expected the good times and dwelled on the bad times. Now, I'm going to enjoy a lot more of the good times.”
The assignment for March 28 at Yankee Stadium against the New York Yankees fits into that category. This time last year, Cobb was still an unsigned free agent, and he arrived at Orioles camp a week before the team went north. His preparation was rushed, and he had a 6.41 ERA at the All-Star break, only to bring it to 4.90 by posting a 2.56 ERA during a much better second half.
“I don't think I did anything that separated myself too much from on the field last year or anything amongst those lines, but I know I came off to a slow start,” Cobb said. “I had a lot better second half, and I think the organization knows that that's more the kind of pitcher that I am than what happened the first half.”
Said Hyde: “For me, Opening Day is one of 162 [games], but it’s a special day. It’s a very special day. I've respected Alex for a long time. We all respect him very much for what he's done in his career. We feel like he’s earned it. His track record speaks for itself, and we're just excited about naming him Opening Day starter.
“We talked a lot about last season, and I know he feels more comfortable obviously this year than he did last year. Missing a spring training — I don't think anybody really understands what that feels like until he kind of went through it last year. I know he's looking to really bounce back from last year. He feels excited about how he's throwing, and we're excited about how he's throwing the ball in camp. I think it's only going to help him, obviously, having the preparation that he didn't get last year. We're looking for big things from Alex.”
The birth of Cobb’s daughter impacted his spring schedule some, as he’s pitched twice in games and threw a four-inning simulated game Sunday, with his next start scheduled for Saturday.
“To see my little girl for the first time, and go home and just be able to hold her every single day, I'd be lying to you if baseball has been on my mind lately, but I'll be able to separate the two and go out and take care of my business,” Cobb said. “Right now, I'm enjoying every single second with her.”
When Hyde summoned him to the office with a professional wrestling-style point, Cobb thought he was in trouble for something. Then, he got a silent handshake he realized might be Hyde’s fifth or sixth time congratulating him on his daughter. He’d already seen the charts laying out pitchers’ schedules, so he figured out this assignment might be his.
“I told him, ‘I'd like to act surprised, but I already knew,’ ” Cobb said. “Hearing him say it and it becoming real, it hits you a special way.”
“I think that the longer you're in the big leagues, the more appreciation you have for special things, and special moments,” Hyde said. “Opening Day is one of those special moments where it's such an accomplishment, one, to play in the big leagues. But two, to be recognized is a huge accomplishment. Someone like that that's been around for a while doesn't take that for granted. Obviously, by Alex's reaction, he didn't take that for granted. He feels great about it.”
Cobb, a former Tampa Bay Rays ace, was given the Opening Day assignment in 2015, but ultimately missed it because of the injury that led to Tommy John elbow reconstruction. Hyde said he could tell by Cobb’s reaction that the assignment was a great honor.
Last year, Cobb shared a rotation with the past three Orioles Opening Day starters — Chris Tillman (2016), Kevin Gausman (2017) and Dylan Bundy (2018). Only Bundy remains with the team, but Hyde said he didn’t give the 26-year-old right-hander a heads up that Cobb was taking that role this year.
“This is something that we feel like Alex has earned it, and deserves it,” Hyde said. “We feel really good about it. … I think we made [the decision] over the last few weeks. I came into spring training not knowing how a lot of decisions were going to go, and still don't. But this is one that we locked in. I think I kind of came in with an open mind. Obviously, I know track record with these guys. I know a lot of what they've done, and after watching, we kind of made this decision over the last couple weeks that Alex was going to be the guy. Now, we're still working on the other four.”
Hyde said the next run through the spring training rotation might be the indicator of who fills those spots, though the team could put their fourth and fifth starters in the bullpen to start the season, and haven’t decided whether to carry seven or eight relievers. And at present, one of those relievers appears to be Nate Karns, who Hyde said will probably start in the bullpen.
“We're still looking at a handful of guys for a few spots, and I think these next few weeks are real telling,” Hyde said. “It's going to be great, watching these guys throw. Are we going to carry seven? Are we going to carry eight? What's our position player situation look like? There's still a lot to be determined.”