SEATTLE — Alex Cobb hopes his second-half success this year can form a foundation for a more seamless season in 2019. And as cerebral as the Orioles right-hander is, he realizes finding the comfort zone on the mound he lacked after his late spring training signing is the key to returning to his old dependable form.
A major part of that is having the faith to throw his split-changeup, the pitch that was the centerpiece of his success with the Tampa Bay Rays, even on nights when he’s not quite sure how well he’s going to execute it each time he throws it.
And in the Orioles’ win over the Seattle Mariners — a club that had roughed Cobb up to the tune of a 7.14 ERA over his career — the quality of Cobb’s changeup ranged widely Tuesday. And even though the pitch wasn’t getting the number of missed bats he does when it’s at its best, Cobb was able to use it to get valuable groundouts that helped him navigate through the Mariners lineup.
The result was a six-inning, one-run effort, his seventh quality start in his past eight outings. Cobb settled in after allowing a mammoth solo homer to Robinson Canó three batters into the game, and even after giving up some hard contact early, he limited the damage.
“Alex is showing why, I keep saying he’s going to be a good pitcher for us,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He has been. He got his ERA under 5.00. He’s come a long way, a long way with a lot of innings.”
Over his past 10 outings, Cobb has lowered his season ERA to 4.97 from 6.67.
“Yeah, I think there’s so much else going on behind the scenes that I’m working on that at a certain point obviously I want to pitch well, pitch good, but I stopped worrying so much about the results and try to get myself right and I was able to do that,” Cobb said. “It’s unfortunate the year that we’re having, but I’ve been able to really focus on myself and try to get better for next year.”
Canó’s homer off Cobb came on a splitter that was up in the strike zone, and Canó sent it an estimated 403 feet over the right-field fence. But two batters later, Cobb buried a splitter in the dirt that left-handed-hitting Denard Span missed, one of five swinging strikes Cobb induced off the pitch.
“What was good to see what a split that didn’t split and he didn’t throw it in his pocket,” Showalter said. He knew he was going to need it with those four left-handed hitters, so he found a way.”
Canó reached three times against Cobb, but the Mariners’ other three left-handed hitters were a combined 0-for-7 against him Tuesday, five of those outs coming on ground balls, and four of those groundouts coming on splitters.
“It was weird tonight because it was some of the best [splitters] I’ve thrown this year and some of the worst ones, so there were some times when I needed a ground ball and it was able to induce those, too,” Cobb said.
“Obviously when it is at its best, I’m looking for the swing and miss, but that’s pitching. There will be days when you don’t have your best stuff and you have to find ways to compete. I think it is good that my changeup is to the point where I don’t have to completely shy away from using it through the course of a game. I can still get the ground balls that I need even if I’m not getting the swing and misses. I just need to find ways to not make that big pitch in certain situations, but I’m happy with the usage of it tonight for sure.”
Cobb allowed seven base runners over six innings — including three walks — but Canó’s homer was the only base runner he allowed to score. He finished with 10 groundouts on the night, five of which ended innings.
“It was OK at parts and not great at others, but you know when it’s not there on every pitch, you battle and I felt like I made some big pitches,” Cobb said. “But my stuff came and went over the course of the game.”
With two on and one out in the third, he induced an inning-ending groundout from former Oriole Nelson Cruz. He was able to erase a leadoff single to David Freitas in the fifth by inducing a 5-4-3 double play ball from Mitch Haniger to end that frame.
And in the sixth, when Cobb put two on with on out after Cano’s single and walk to Cruz, he induced a ground ball to first to retire Span on a splitter before getting out of the inning on a first-pitch groundout from Ryon Healy on a fastball.
“Just need to find a way to get the off-speed pitch more consistent finally and then I’ll have probably have a little less-stressful innings,” Cobb said. “You can’t put yourself into a position where you have to make a big pitch constantly in a game, but you know if you get those better pitches, those sharper pitches going, you won’t put yourself in that position. It didn’t hurt me tonight, but it could in the future.”