BOSTON — Alex Cobb knew the Boston Red Sox would present a difficult challenge in his season debut Saturday, but the Orioles right-hander was confident he had done everything he could over the season's first few weeks to be ready for the American League's most dangerous lineup.
Cobb had history on his side — a track record of success against the Red Sox and at Fenway Park — but his preparation for the season after signing with the Orioles in the final week of spring training was uncharted territory.
After an ugly Orioles debut in a one-sided 10-3 loss to the Red Sox, Cobb — who walked off the field with two outs in the fourth inning and was charged with eight runs (seven earned) on 11 base runners — said he felt ill-prepared for Boston's lineup. It was a dubious start for Cobb, who faced nothing comparable to a big league lineup in four tune-up outings — three simulated games and an extended spring game — let alone a Red Sox batting order that has allowed few pitching mistakes to go unpunished in the first two games of this four-game series at Fenway Park.
"Not today, I didn't [feel ready]," Cobb said. "We did all we could. There is no replicating this. This is the best team in the world hitting right now, and you're never going to get ready for that. We did what we could and … facing a lineup, it's a battle with yourself a lot of the times, making sure that you're sharp and you have things working to your best abilities, and that was the case more than anything today, was me faltering rather than really getting beat.
"That lineup is red hot, and they were teeing off on some really bad pitches. It was a combination of those two things, but in preparation to get ready for the big league level, you can't — until you're out there. But I've been around long enough to know what I was going to expect out there, and what I was going to be faced with, and I just didn't come through today on my end."
Cobb allowed eight runs in an outing shorter than four innings just once in 29 starts last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. So the performance was a rarity for a starting pitcher with a resume of success in the American League East, which was among the main reasons the Orioles signed Cobb to a club-record four-year, $57 million deal on March 21.
Orioles infielder Tim Beckham, who was a teammate of Cobb with the Rays, shrugged off the outing, saying he trusts in Cobb's track record.
"He'll get comfortable, man," Beckham said. "Once he gets comfortable and settled in, he's a good pitcher. He's a been doing it for a while now and he has good numbers in the American League East. That's nothing I'm going to worry about. We've got a lot more other worries than Alex Cobb pitching. He's a good pitcher and I know he'd going to come in here and compete."
But on Saturday, Cobb struggled to locate his two-seam fastball as it sailed up in the zone while hanging his splitter and curveball too often. Of the 16 split-fingered fastballs Cobb threw, the Red Sox had five hits and put 11 in play.
"Whether it's the [first] impression or not, you just want to go and win a ballgame, give your team a chance," Cobb said. "You take pride in what you do. That was something I haven't felt very often in a long time, just really not having much clue what was going on up there. You can make all the excuses in the world, but at the end of the day, you've got to figure out a way to get sharp, get sharp quickly, and get on a good roll. And I plan to do that this work week."
Cobb was among the top 10 starters in the AL last season in fewest homers allowed per nine innings (1.1, 10th). But he yielded two home runs Saturday, including a two-run blast by Hanley Ramírez over the Green Monster in left field that capped a three-run first inning. Last season, Cobb allowed multiple homers in just seven of his 29 starts.
Heading into Cobb's first start, Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn't know what to expect in Cobb's debut, because he knew he'd face a dramatic change from pitching in simulated games and in extended spring contests.
"I think you look at it through realistic eyes," Showalter said. "But we felt like and he felt like — we like the program he's on and he's only going to get better, especially when conditions get a little better. But a lot of things change when you come from the minor leagues to the big leagues, even the weather that he came from. We threw a lot of things at him today and he never gave in. He's only going to get better and better. We're excited to have him."
A career 5-1 record and 3.15 ERA at Fenway Park coming into the day didn't carry over for Cobb. His afternoon started poorly, from the six-pitch walk he issued to Boston leadoff man Mookie Betts in the first inning. Andrew Benintendi followed by yanking a 2-1 splitter off the Green Monster to score Betts, and Ramírez took a 2-2 splitter over the high wall in left to hand the Orioles a 3-0 deficit.
Overall, the Orioles (5-10) have been outscored 22-4 in the first inning this season, and 7-1 in the first two games of the series.
With one out in the third, Cobb started J.D. Martinez off with a curveball inside for a ball, then threw another that hung over the plate and Martinez sent it the opposite way into the Red Sox bullpen in right field.
Things quickly unraveled for Cobb in the fourth. Catcher Sandy León opened the inning with a single and two batters later, No. 9 hitter Tzu-Wei Lin singled. Benintendi then took Cobb's first-pitch delivery into right field for a two-run single, and scored on Ramírez's double off the Green Monster in left.
Moments after Ramírez's double gave the Red Sox (12-2 for the best start in their 118-year history) a 7-0 lead, Showalter hopped out of the third base dugout to end Cobb's day. An eighth run – albeit unearned — would be charged to Cobb when Manny Machado committed a throwing error and Ramírez scored again with Miguel Castro on the mound.