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Cobb earns Orioles' Opening Day starter nod

Veteran right-hander to face Yankees on March 28
@JoeTrezz
March 13, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Any other spring, it would’ve qualified as the best kind of news for Alex Cobb. This time, it’ll have to settle for a close second. That’s because Cobb was already having a banner spring personally before Tuesday, when the Orioles tabbed the right-hander as their Opening Day

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Any other spring, it would’ve qualified as the best kind of news for Alex Cobb. This time, it’ll have to settle for a close second.

That’s because Cobb was already having a banner spring personally before Tuesday, when the Orioles tabbed the right-hander as their Opening Day starter. Manager Brandon Hyde hugged Cobb while informing him of the club’s decision, five days after Cobb and his wife, Kelly, celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter named Chloe.

“It’s been the best week of my life, and it has nothing to do with baseball,” said Cobb. “To see my little girl for the first time, to be able to hold her every single night. I’d be lying to you if I said baseball has been on my mind lately. But I’ll be able to separate the two and go take care of my business.”

He’ll have to March 28 in New York, opposite Yankees’ righty Masahiro Tanaka. It’ll mark the first such assignment for Cobb, who becomes the Orioles’ fourth different Opening Day starter in as many years. Chris Tillman was the last Orioles pitcher to earn consecutive Opening Day nods, doing so from 2014-2016. Dylan Bundy got the start last season, Kevin Gausman in 2017. Now it’s Cobb, who earned the assignment over Bundy and Andrew Cashner this time around.

“It’s a reward for what you’ve done,” Hyde said. “This is something that we felt like Alex has earned it, and deserves it and we feel really good about it. I’ve respected Alex for a long time. We feel like he’s earned it. His track record speaks for himself.”

Hyde consistently went back to Cobb’s pedigree when explaining the decision, which the manager said had formed over the last few weeks. The seven-year veteran leads all current Baltimore hurlers in a slew of major statistical categories, including career wins (53), ERA (3.75) and WHIP (1.25). Set to earn $14 million this season, he is also the club’s highest paid pitcher and, being signed through 2021, represents its longest financial commitment on the pitching side.

Cobb wasn’t a candidate to start Opening Day last year due to his late signing. The righty didn’t ink his four-year, $57 million deal with Baltimore until March 21, then rushed through a truncated spring only to struggle mightily over the season’s first two months. Cobb ended the year 5-15 with a career-worst 4.90 ERA in 28 starts, though he did post a 2.56 ERA across 11 second-half appearances.

“The organization knows that’s more of the pitcher that I am,” Cobb said.

That number -- more than Cobb’s 12.27 Grapefruit League ERA this spring -- has the Orioles hoping he’s primed for a rebound year.

“We’ve talked a lot about last season. He feels more comfortable this year than last,” Hyde said. “Missing a Spring Training -- I don’t think anybody really understands what that feels like until he kind of went through it. He’s looking to really bounce back. We’re excited about how he’s throwing the ball in camp.”

A good chunk of that work has come on the backfields, per Cobb’s request. With his wife due, Cobb forwent his third scheduled start for a simulated game that’s technically limited his official spring workload to 3 2/3 innings. Cobb is set to return to the mound Saturday against a split Blue Jays squad for his penultimate start of the preseason and will likely be on extra rest when he toes the rubber in New York.

The Orioles haven’t determined how they’ll line Bundy and Cashner behind him, though both are almost certain to face James Paxton and J.A Happ in the season’s second and third games, in some order. What’s clear is that being selected for Opening Day marked a milestone Cobb feared he’d missed out on long ago. Cobb had been slated to start on Opening Day for the Rays in 2015, but tore the ulna collateral ligament in his right elbow shortly after, then missed the start and the entire season.

“My career took a turn at that point,” Cobb said. “It hasn’t sunk in totally yet. It probably won’t until I’m walking out, the festivities are going on and the uniform is put on.”

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.