When the Orioles signed Alex Cobb in late-March, making the largest financial commitment the club has ever made to a free-agent starting pitcher, it was because they believed adding him to the starting rotation could keep the team competitive in the American League East.
That expected some early hiccups because of his late signing, but no one could have anticipated this, that the Orioles right-hander would be 2-13, leading the majors in losses for a team on pace for one of the worst seasons in major league history.
With their 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre, the Orioles (28-71) have lost eight of nine against Toronto this year and are 11-27 against division competition. They scored one run or less for the 27th time in 99 games this season.
Cobb allowed just one earned run Saturday, the difference in the game coming on three unearned runs scored off him in the fourth inning on a play in which Cobb’s throw to second pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the bag.
Cobb has never pitched full season without recording a winning record, and he arrived in Baltimore with a career 48-35 mark, but this year, but this year, his results have headed south.
“It sucks,” Cobb said. “I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name. It’s sickening.
“I know that there’s a lot of discussions about wins and losses and how they don’t matter. But I worked really hard my whole career to try and have a real nice-looking record because whether you’re a casual fan or real in-depth into the numbers, the first thing you see on the back of your card is your win-loss. I’ve always taken pride in that in my whole career.”
Cobb — who is winless over his past eight starts, his last win coming June 5 at the New York Mets — also came to the Orioles with a strong track record in the AL East, but this season he’s just 1-5 against division competition.
“He’s so much better,” rookie catcher Austin Wynns said. “He brings a lot. He brings a lot of just knowledge, too. He knows what he’s doing every single day. He does his research. He works on his craft every day. He doesn’t take any time off at all. That record does not show what he is. He’s more than that.”
With one on and no outs in the fourth, Cobb fielded a grounder by Yangervis Solarte to the right of the mound and threw to second looking for a double play, but his throw led Beckham too far in front of the bag and he jumped without the ball, his throw to first too late. Second base umpire Marty Foster initially called the runner at second, Justin Smoak, out, but the play was overturned after Toronto’s challenge. Beckham was charged with an error.
“You could probably have given it to either one,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I’m not sure. I’d have to look at it, if he’s flying across there and didn’t have time to anchor. The clock should tell you with the guy that hit the ball and it’s slow developing that you don’t have a play at first, so there is no reason to hurry. You kind of anchor and get the out. … You know those are things we are having trouble executing. The physical mistakes that are obvious to everybody. There are some other things we are not doing.”
That was all that needed to happen for Cobb to unravel. A one-run Orioles lead disappeared when Randal Grichuk drove in Smoak on a double to right field. And after Kendrys Morales walked to load the bases, the go-ahead run scored on a 5-4-3 double play ball, and an insurance run came home on Luke Maile’s single up the middle that Beckham couldn’t reach.
Cobb allowed another run in the fifth on a balk, allowing Teoscar Hernández to score from third. He left the game after five innings as a precaution when a blister began to develop on his pitching hand.
“It was good early on, got into a little bit of trouble later on in the game,” Cobb said. “But felt pretty happy with my stuff for the most part. Changeup was working well, able to get some first-pitch curveballs over and fastball on both sides of the plate. Just didn’t really go according to plan [later] in the game. … You can’t let really any outside circumstances dictate the way you go about your business, how you have success or how you try to pitch guys. There’s strengths you have as a pitcher that you do well, that you continue to try to do. And mine are to try and get the ball on the ground. Let your defense work behind you. That’s what I’m gonna continue to do. I feel like when you are right, myself, when I’m right, and I’m inducing weak contact on the ground, we shouldn’t have many issues there.”
Cobb was given a 1-0 lead early on Adam Jones’ RBI single, the last of three straight singles to open the game. But the Orioles mounted little after that, recording just two hits after the first inning.
“Alex was good,” Showalter said. “We just didn’t score any runs. Five hits. You know, a lot of balls out the zone. We didn’t score any runs. … Alex is not our issue. We need to have better ball security and swing the bats better. He pitched well enough to win the game. He gave up one earned run and we just didn’t score any. I’m OK with Alex.”
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman went seven innings and struck out seven. Showalter said Stroman benefited from a liberal strike zone from home plate umpire Joe West.
“We are very dominant right-handed and you have a guy that can command the slider,” Showalter said. “And let’s face it, getting a little extra help off the plate today, obviously. And good veteran pitchers make use of that.”
Tanner Scott struck out the side in the seventh, and closer Zach Britton — who could be making one of his final appearances in an Orioles uniform — pitched a scoreless eighth.