'Real tough walking off of the mound like that': Orioles' Cobb leaves start with blister after four pitches

NEW YORK — This wasn’t the way Alex Cobb envisioned his first season in an Orioles uniform ending, forced from the mound after just four pitches Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when the nagging blister on his right middle finger opened in the first inning of the Orioles’ 6-3 win over the New York Yankees.

When he signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the Orioles in the final days of spring training, he expected to join a contender. It quickly became clear that wouldn’t happen this season, and throughout that, Cobb battled to find his footing after his late start set him back.


While the beginning of Cobb’s season was frustrating, the end was equally so. He couldn’t predict how long he’d be able to pitch before the blister crept up again, and especially after he felt it lurking during his pregame bullpen session. After two throwing sessions, his right middle finger felt good enough to start the series finale against the New York Yankees and the Orioles had given him 11 days off to heal. Still, the only real test would be getting back onto a mound in a game situation.

He threw just four pitches — all four-seam fastballs — to Yankees leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen before looking to his pitching hand after the last one, prompting Orioles manager Buck Showalter and athletic trainer Mark Shires to the mound. The conversation was brief, and Cobb walked off the field with Shires, showed his hand to pitching coach Roger McDowell in the dugout and disappeared down the tunnel.


With only a week remaining in the regular season, Cobb will not pitch again in 2018.

Cobb made 28 starts this season, and despite a horrific start, he ended with a 1.3 FanGraphs WAR, but the way his season ended Sunday at Yankee Stadium left him with a bitter taste.

“It’s real tough walking off of the mound like that, really contributing nothing to the game knowing that you’re leaving such a burden to the bullpen to kind of deal with,” Cobb said. “It’s tough, but we prepared for it, and I think Buck knew it was a real possibility it was going to happen. … You obviously want to finish on a better note, deeper in the game, come back and be healthy for two starts, but we tried pushing it. We tried pushing it because we could. We knew that the risk wasn’t that great that we were taking that it wasn’t going to cause any further injury. We pushed it to come back and get two more starts. We wouldn’t have known without trying so we’re at where we’re at.”

No Orioles starting pitcher has ever left a game having thrown fewer pitches without recording an out. On April 22, 1988, Mike Morgan failed to record an out in a 19-pitch start against the Kansas City Royals. Five relievers covered nine innings Sunday, including four innings from right-hander Mike Wright Jr., holding the Yankees to just four hits.

Adam Jones has thrown out base runners in two of his last three starts in right field.

“Regardless if Alex had left early, or if he hadn’t pitched at all, we would have to use the same people today anyway,” Showalter said. “He took a shot at it, thought it was going to be all right. It started heating up on him in the bullpen. He wanted to start and see if it would cool down, but it didn’t.”

Cobb had been battling blister problems throughout the season, but they became worse in September, stalling a second-half resurgence for Cobb. Put in context of the Orioles’ star-crossed season, in which players, fans, management and front office officials alike have spent the year wondering what else could go wrong, Sunday was another unfortunate wrinkle.

Cobb received six days off before his most recent start against the Oakland Athletics, but lasted just two innings, throwing 30 pitches before exiting with a blister on his right middle finger.

The Orioles gave him more rest this time, and he threw a light bullpen session Wednesday and then a more-intense one Friday. Showalter also said that cool conditions and a lack of humidity expected for Sunday might help Cobb get through the day. And Cobb wanted to get back on the mound, knowing the Yankees — who clinched a spot in the American League wild-card game — still had to play for the right to host the game.

“I knew it was going to be an issue when I started throwing in the bullpen, towards the end of that,” Cobb said. “I knew I wasn’t going not last very long, but I didn’t know how long, how long I could push it. It ultimately cut open again, probably that fourth pitch in that first inning.

“Personally, I would have liked to finish off pitching and being healthy and providing some sort of length to my outings” Cobb said.

Cobb entered Sunday with a 2.59 ERA over his past 11 starts, getting a season ERA that was at 7.23 in June down to 4.90. He held hitters to a .234 batting average and recorded eight quality starts over that stretch.

The Orioles ended their season series at Yankee Stadium with a 5-4 record, the only AL park they will have a winning record at in 2018.

He found a feel for his pitches, including his split-change pitch that’s the root of his three-pitch arsenal while putting the first-half struggles that came after his late-spring training signing forced him into an unconventional preparation for the season.


Asked to summarize his season after Sunday’s game, Cobb said he really couldn’t.

“I don’t really want to,” Cobb said. “It hasn’t been anything that we’ve envisioned before we made the commitment to come here. I don’t think anybody envisioned it turning out his way. You never sign up for something like this. We’re going to see how things go in the offseason and see what kind of team we’ll be working with next year and do our best with what we’ve got and hopefully be able to turn this whole thing, this organization around quickly because this isn’t where anybody wants to be.”

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