This week seemed to offer some dissipation to the home run problem that plagued the Orioles’ pitching staff. Baltimore had kept the ball in the yard in three of its past four contests, allowing only two in that span.
Right-hander Alex Cobb surpassed that total within the span of three batters and doubled it in the course of his four-inning outing against the Minnesota Twins on Friday at Target Field. A week after hitting three home runs off Cobb at Camden Yards, the Twins got him for four and Gabriel Ynoa for another in their 6-1 victory to open a three-game series.
“I'm just leaving so many balls up in the zone right now, and they're putting a lot of barrels to the ball, and they're going out of the ballpark,” Cobb said. “So I gotta figure out a way to get the ball down and more to my spots than I'm doing right now, so it'll come with time."
After Cobb retired the first two Twins (14-9) he faced, Nelson Cruz, Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron homered consecutively. Cruz and Rosario lofted their shots to center, while Cron’s rocket to left came off the bat at 110.2 mph, per Statcast data.
Max Kepler surpassed that with a 112.3 mph missile in the fourth. In all, the Twins put 10 of Cobb’s pitches in play at over 100 mph, the second-highest total off Cobb since Statcast began tracking exit velocity in 2015.
“I've always been able to look at a spot on the plate and throw it to that spot, and now the ball's just not being driven to those spots very well,” Cobb said. “They're coming back over the plate, thigh high, waist high, and I've always been able to drive that ball down to the knees and onto the corners, and I'm not doing that right now."
Battling groin and back issues that have each landed him on the injured list, Cobb has started his second season as an Oriole by allowing nine home runs, the most in the American League, in 12 1/3 innings. All four Friday came on offspeed pitches, with the first two on his curve and the latter pair off his splitter.
Cobb said his struggles are directly related to the injuries. During the recent homestand, he threw a simulated game from the Oriole Park mound with a high-speed camera behind him in an effort to correct whatever is plaguing him mechanically. He’s unsure whether another session like that is on the agenda, but he’s open to whatever might lead to improvement after he’s missed three turns through the rotation.
“I was feeling in good form before I left the mound for that long,” Cobb said. “That stinks, and it's something that you have to fight through the physical struggles of being able to do what you want to do and also work on your mechanics and your mindset of what you're trying to do on the mound. So there's a lot going on there. But before all this, I was feeling pretty happy with where I was at, so it was unfortunate timing for when it happen. But it doesn't matter. You've gotta take what the season is giving you and deal with it, so I'll figure out a way."
Cobb said he’s unsure how much of an impact his mental state is having on the situation. Manager Brandon Hyde said Cobb hasn’t been as “crisp” since going on the injured list with a lower-back strain after holding the New York Yankees to two runs in 5 2/3 innings in the Orioles’ home opener.
“I just think that he’s not executing the way he wants to, and I think that’s frustrating for him right now,” Hyde said. “You see the frustration out there.
“He didn’t want to come out of the game. Cobber has pitched in big games and done it for a while. We expect him to bounce back and have a good rest of the year.”
It wasn’t only the balls that went over the fence that gave the Orioles trouble. In the third, second baseman Jonathan Villar bobbled a potential double-play ground ball from Cron, settling for the out at first. Marwin Gonzalez then hit a fly ball to the warning track, where center fielder Joey Rickard dropped the ball and allowed Rosario to score an unearned run.
No team has given up as many long balls as the Orioles, whose 64 home runs allowed through Friday are 14 more than any previous major league had forfeited before the end of May. Cruz deposited the latest, his second of the night and fourth in four games against his former club, to right field off Ynoa in the fifth. Ynoa went 3 1/3 innings, salvaging the bullpen, while Miguel Castro saved his stat line by stranding two inherited runners with a pair of strikeouts, rebounding from a rough outing against the Chicago White Sox.
The other side of the ball proved problematic. Twins left-hander Martin Perez entered with a 5.31 ERA, with the Orioles (10-17) scoring four runs in his six innings in his previous start. But Perez began the game by retiring the first nine Baltimore batters, helped by former Oriole second baseman Jonathan Schoop denying Trey Mancini an infield hit in the first.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde announced Friday that right-hander David Hess would be available out of the bullpen as the team opened a rotation spot for Means, who will pitch during the upcoming series at the Chicago White Sox.
Villar cued an infield single to third to start the fourth to become the Orioles’ first baserunner. Mancini followed with a single, one of his three hits as he continued to pace the American League in the category.
Renato Núñez caught a break when his full-count popup fell in foul territory beyond the first-base line rather than Cron’s first baseman's mitt, but he hit into a double play. After Perez hit Dwight Smith Jr. with a pitch, Rickard struck out, unable to make up for his error.
In the sixth, when Villar and Mancini again began the inning with singles off Perez, the Orioles were able to snap the shutout thanks to Smith’s RBI single one batter later. They loaded the bases in the eighth, but Hanser Alberto grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the Orioles’ threat. Hyde said if Alberto had reached and brought the tying run to the plate, Chris Davis would have pinch-hit.