This was seemingly the night that Alex Cobb had finally found his footing, keeping the ball on the ground against his former team and holding the Tampa Bay Rays to one run through his first four innings Wednesday at Camden Yards. And on the mound, there was something about the way the ball was coming out of Cobb's hand that also made him believe this was the outing when he would finally get back to pitching like himself.
"It's the best I've felt throwing the ball [this season]," Cobb said. "I was really feeling good. I was really thinking this is going to be one of those nights where I put it on kind of cruise control. I see a spot and I hit it. I coast through six, seven innings. That's what I thought it was shaping up to be. And it came to a screeching halt there."
As rain intensified while Cobb took the mound for the top of the fifth, the sky fell on his outing. He wouldn't survive the inning, letting a two-run lead evaporate as Tampa Bay scored four runs in the frame. Cobb allowed six of the eight batters he faced in the inning to reach base in the Orioles' 8-4 loss to the Rays.
It was a frustrating inning for Cobb, who through three starts is still searching for the form that prompted the Orioles to make a four-year, $57 million investment in him in late March, forcing an unconventional preparation for the regular season that is still showing rust through his first three starts.
Cobb signed with the Orioles on March 21 — during the last week of spring training — forcing him to seek his regular-season form without the benefit of a spring training. He worked his innings count up through simulated and extended spring games, but has been overwhelmed by big league hitters. In three starts, Cobb has allowed 30 hits over 12 innings, recording a 13.11 ERA for the season after allowing five runs on 10 hits over five innings Wednesday.
"It's the toughest thing I've had to do as a big leaguer," Cobb said. "Just feel like you're behind and going turbo speed to kind of catch back up with everybody. Just knowing that you're doing too much versus the right amount is tough and you can throw to your arm falls off between starts to make up for that time you miss and it ends up hurting you there in the end, too. This is tough, but got to find a way to get it going and get it going quick. I know I will. It's hard to see from the outside because nobody knows me and nobody has really seen me go through struggles in the past. But I know when I have the ball what I can do with it. Just a matter of getting there."
As Cobb struggles to find himself, the Orioles are falling deeper into the American League East cellar. The loss was the Orioles' 10th in their past 11 games. They have also lost 12 of 14 in starting the season 6-18, including a 3-8 record at Camden Yards.
Cobb's most effective pitch Wednesday his first two times through the Tampa Bay batting order — his curveball — was punished in the fifth inning. Three of the Rays' five hits off Cobb in the fifth came against the curveball, including C.J. Cron's two-run double that erased the Orioles' 3-1 lead.
Two batters later, Cron scored on a sacrifice fly by Brad Miller, and Daniel Robertson took a curveball down the third base line for a double, prompting Cobb to yell into his glove in frustration. Joey Wendle's ensuing RBI single — another hit that came on a curveball — gave Tampa Bay a 5-3 lead, and Cobb was pulled after he walked the next batter, Wilson Ramos.
"This whole search that I'm on trying to get right, it's tough," Cobb said. "It's tough to watch. It's tough to play behind. It's even more tough to be on the mound doing it. But there's no excuses. There's things that are off on my end. Nothing changed there in that game other than me faltering a bit towards the end and them capitalizing. I went to the well one too many times on the curveball and left some hanging that last inning as well. That's where that damage came."
Heading into the fifth, Cobb was effective throwing his curveball for a strike early in the count to get ahead of hitters, but the third time through the order, the Rays were sitting on it.
"We know what he's going to bring over the long haul," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's just a situation where he's kind of getting a little bit better each time. He had a more fastball tonight, had a couple of borderline pitches he just missed and some balls he got in some areas he didn't want to get into. He knows right from wrong. He's just trying to execute, and it's not quite there yet. He knows when it's right and he knows when it's not. He's a tough evaluator, almost to a fault."
The Orioles took a rare lead in the second inning, 3-1, on a two-run double by second baseman Jace Peterson, who made an immediate contribution in his first at-bat with the team after he was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees on Tuesday.
Cobb fell behind 1-0 in the first — he has allowed at least one run in the first inning in all three of his starts — on Miller's RBI groundout, but Adam Jones' RBI double that scored Trey Mancini in the bottom of the first tied the game at 1.
Catcher Chance Sisco — hitting in the No. 2 spot in the batting order for the first time — hit his first homer of the season, an opposite-field solo homer in the fifth inning, to cut the Tampa Bay lead to 5-4, but reliever Miguel Castro allowed a solo homer to Adeiny Hechavarría in the sixth and the Rays scored two runs off left-hander Tanner Scott in the seventh.