Each time Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb appears to take a step toward righting his season, he seems to stumble back to the same struggles that have overall sunk his season.
Coming off probably his best start of the season, Cobb couldn’t get out of the fifth inning in an 8-7 loss to the Seattle Mariners in 11 innings on Wednesday night at Camden Yards.
Cobb entered the fifth inning Wednesday with a 4-2 lead, and despite a wild frame, he nearly escaped, allowing just one run before allowing a two-out, two-run single by catcher Mike Zunino, who entered the night hitting .190, to give Seattle a 5-4 lead.
His 4 2/3-inning outing Wednesday, in which the Mariners had 11 base runners, marked the sixth time in Cobb’s 14 starts that he’s allowed five or more runs and lasted fewer than five innings.
His struggles came after holding the Atlanta Braves to one run on four hits over seven innings in a 10-7 extra-inning road win Friday.
After Wednesday’s outing, Cobb said his struggles gaining consistency are mechanical.
“I’ve never had to think about it before [like this],” Cobb said. “It was more of just get the ball, think about what pitch you want to throw and just execute it. This year has been a lot more about trying to figure out the mechanical side of things and when you do find it, harness it and repeat it. The inconsistency on my end, I’ve never really dealt with it before, but it’s really unacceptable to keep going out there and having a good game, and [then] a game where you don’t give much of an opportunity for your team to win.”
Cobb, who was signed to a four-year, $57-million deal late in spring training because of his consistency with the Tampa Bay Rays, has been anything but. His unconventional preparation for the season is well-documented. He signed with the Orioles in the final week of spring training, made his first start April 14 after several simulated outings in Sarasota, Fla., and immediately looked overmatched against major league competition.
Since then, he’s found his footing on occasion, but his game log is erratic.
Dating to Cobb’s fourth start of the season, each of his three shortest starts have come after a quality start. On June 10 in Toronto, he lasted just 3 2/3 innings following a six-inning, one-run performance against the Mets. A 3 2/3-inning, six-run outing May 23 in Chicago followed a 6 1/3-inning, three-run quality start in Boston.
Even with last Friday’s performance in Atlanta, Cobb has allowed 20 earned runs over his past 22 1/3 innings for an 8.06 ERA over his past four starts.
The fifth inning has given Cobb trouble. Opponents are hitting .394 with a .469 on-base percentage in the fifth.
“I think it’s more so just getting in that groove and when I’m not in that groove, that’s when it shows up the most,” Cobb said about his middle-inning struggles. “In the first, second inning, it looks like I’m cruising and in the third and fourth, seems to be full of mistake pitches and hits. It really wasn’t so much I was in a groove early on. I was just getting by with some stuff that you can’t sustain through a full game. But those games when I’m going five, six, seven innings, I’m usually feeling pretty good from the first inning on.”
On Wednesday, Cobb entered the fifth inning having dodged most of the damage he faced. He allowed a solo homer to Ryon Healy in the second and an RBI single to Denard Span in the third, but stranded two base runners after Span’s hit.
But he quickly got into trouble in the fifth, loading the bases with one out on two walks and a double by Kyle Seager. Healy drove in a run on a sacrifice fly to center, and Cobb intentionally walked Ben Gamel to face Zunino.
Zunino hit a 2-2 fastball over the outer part of the plate up the middle to score two runs and chase Cobb from the game.
“Just he got some pitches up to Healy that he was trying to throw him in a different spot,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Cobb. “Command of his fastball got him into trouble some. And got some counts in his favors, just couldn’t finish some guys off. [Against] some people that really Alex is better than in those situations, he just couldn’t get the ball where he wanted to as consistently as he did last time out.”