DUNEDIN, FLA. — Alex Cobb has only one start left between his strong showing Saturday in the Orioles' 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays and his Opening Day assignment March 28 at the New York Yankees, but used this important spring tune-up to try something he's never done in his life: pitch entirely out of the stretch instead of the windup.
Such is the freedom of players in Orioles camp under manager Brandon Hyde and his staff that Cobb, a veteran who is coming off an uneven 2018, could finally try something he's been thinking about for years, and have it be encouraged.
"I made a game-time decision," a smiling Cobb said after he allowed three runs on four hits in the fifth inning after four scoreless frames Saturday. "I was running out from the mound, to just go from the stretch, so I don't even know why. I've been thinking about it for a long time. I felt really good in the bullpen out of the stretch and I was a little bit hesitant out of the windup. I said, 'Let's just go out of the stretch today and see how it goes.' It's something I wanted to experiment with. I knew there was no TV [coverage], so I'd just have to answer to you guys."
Cobb said there was no pushback from Hyde or pitching coach Doug Brocail, with whom he had discussed it before.
"I put a lot of trust in the guys who have been there before, and kind of know what they want to do to get ready and what they need to do to get ready," Hyde said. "And I trust Alex. Alex has got a lot of starts under his belt, especially in the American League East, and I put trust into what he feels like he needs to work on."
The result was a pitcher who looked like he was ready for Opening Day with nearly two weeks left before it arrives. On his way to an eight-strikeout day, Cobb had three in the first inning — one on a fastball, one on a curveball and one on his signature split-change, a pitch that didn't come around until the All-Star break last season and directly led to his turnaround.
"He looked great," catcher Chance Sisco said. "I think he had a really good feel for his pitches today. His off-speed looked really good. His fastball, he's commanding it. I think he's got a really good feel for his stuff, and he looked really good out there."
"Four great innings, just ran into trouble in the fifth a little bit, but that was his best stuff he's shown this spring," Hyde said. "He had three pitches going, kind of finished up with some more pitches in the bullpen at the end. I was really happy with it, and I'm sure he was. Especially those first four innings, he was attacking hitters with three pitches. Great job."
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That it came from the stretch was only a bonus. Cobb said doing that allowed him to simplify some things mentally and physically by cutting out another delivery to think about. He watched as the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Stephen Strasburg and Yu Darvish were part of a growing movement of pitchers who only pitched from the stretch, and joined them. Cobb said if his body responds to the added exertion of pitching exclusively from the stretch, he could decide to carry it over into the regular season.
"It felt really good as something that I've always thought about trying," Cobb said. "The simplicity of it seems like a good idea. When you go home at night, or you're practicing in your bullpens, you're always thinking about two different deliveries. I want to clean all those thoughts up and stop worrying about both, and hoping that both are there. I'm trying it out, seeing if we get any extra fatigue or what the downside might be to it. I'm experimenting with it, and I liked it today."
Hays homers again
Outfielder Austin Hays hit his team-high fifth home run of the spring to break a 3-3 deadlock in the eighth inning, continuing one of the hottest springs of anyone in the Grapefruit League.
Before that, the Orioles scored twice in the fourth on doubles by Renato Núñez and Stevie Wilkerson, and in the fifth inning on a bases-loaded walk by Sisco.
A bullpen performance that featured scoreless relief from John Means, Tanner Scott, Evan Phillips and Cody Carroll helped keep it tied after Cobb left, setting up Hays' home run. Phillips hasn’t allowed a run all spring, and Carroll struck out three around a hit and an error in the ninth inning.
‘That wasn’t ideal’
Designated hitter Mark Trumbo had the first live, game-action tests of his surgically-repaired right knee on the bases Saturday in Dunedin, and they certainly weren’t simple ones. After striking out in his first at-bat, Trumbo walked and scored from first on Núñez’s double, then legged out an infield single in the top of the fifth inning.
“That wasn't ideal, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “It wasn't what I was hoping, but he felt good after scoring from first on the double. He wanted another [at-bat], and got an infield single out of it. I checked immediately after he left the game, but I haven't heard. It sounds like everything went well and his knee felt fine.”