Pair provides optimism for ailing O's

July 21st, 2020

At this critically late juncture of Summer Camp, the Orioles are looking for positive news on the injury front. They’ve already lost Trey Mancini for the season, are grappling with potentially going into Opening Day without John Means and Hunter Harvey, and have seen bench options Richie Martin, Stevie Wilkerson, Dwight Smith Jr. and others sidelined by various ailments over the past week.

All of which made the club reflect on the performances Monday from and with satisfaction and relief, after both played well and without issue in Baltimore’s 4-2 exhibition loss to the Nationals at Oriole Park. Cobb was sharp and efficient in pitching into the fifth, and Santander collected hits in both of his at-bats against Stephen Strasburg. The result? Both sent strong signals regarding their readiness for the regular season.

“Very encouraging,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Cobb. “He should be ready to go.”

Of Santander, Hyde said: “He’s on the right track.”

For Cobb, 32, the concern was rooted in how Hyde characterized him as “a little behind” other starters in camp in terms of workload after he wasn’t able to face live hitters during the shutdown. Cobb is also looking to rebound from major hip surgery that limited him to three starts in 2019. On Monday, he struck out four of his first six hitters and five overall across four-plus innings, allowing two earned runs on a Howie Kendrick fourth-inning homer. Kendrick and Yan Gomes added RBI hits off David Hess in the seventh, long after Cobb departed.

“I felt really strong early on,” Cobb said. “Later on I might have gotten, I don’t want to say lazy, but there is a point in the game where you get fatigued a little bit and really have to focus on finishing your pitches. But overall, I was happy with the quality of work.”

Said , who also quelled any lingering concerns about his nagging back with a three-hit performance in his exhibition debut: “He reminded me a lot of Tampa Bay Alex Cobb.”

By that, Iglesias means the frontline starter Cobb was earlier in his career with the Rays, before missing nearly three full seasons over five years to elbow and hip surgeries. The right-hander now projects as the Orioles’ No. 2 starter in the third season of a four-year, $57 million contract, and he is in line to start the season’s second game against the Red Sox on Saturday. Cobb threw 56 pitches over four-plus innings Monday; that should put him on track to throw about 65-70 in his season debut. The O’s are not making him a candidate to potentially fill in for Means for Opening Day on short rest, given Cobb’s injury history.

"I think, ideally, everybody would like another outing in the Summer Camp,” Cobb said. “For how quickly this camp has gone and how quickly we’ve ramped up, I’m happy where I’m at.”

Santander, similarly, was looking to show he’d recovered fully from a previous health issue, having reported to Summer Camp roughly two weeks late due to a positive COVID-19 test. Limited to live batting practice and intrasquad games until Monday, Santander doubled off the left-field wall in the first inning and blooped an opposite-field single in the third off Strasburg, who struck out six in holding the O’s to a lone run across five innings. That tally came via an RBI groundout by ; added an RBI single off Erick Fedde in the eighth.

Last year, the switch-hitting Santander emerged as a middle-of-the-order threat for Baltimore, hitting .261 with 20 homers.

The key, Hyde said, was simply seeing how Santander has ramped up into game shape from a conditioning and durability standpoint. He cleared the first hurdle with two trips around the basepaths and four defensive innings. The next test comes in Tuesday’s exhibition finale against the Nats in Washington, where Santander is expected to start again in a final tune-up for Opening Day.

“Tony wanted to go a little longer, to be honest with you, but I didn’t want him to,” Hyde said. “It was good to see him on the bases twice, to get that feeling back also in a game situation. He took some really good swings tonight.”