Cobb’s late arrival coincides with difficult early stretch for Orioles

March 21, 2018 | Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles)

The Orioles have inked right-hander Alex Cobb to the richest pitcher contract in franchise history, but when he’ll be ready to make his 2018 debut is unclear.

Officially signing a four-year, $57 million deal with Baltimore just eight days before the season opener, Cobb will likely stay behind in Sarasota when the club heads north and then pitch for a minor-league affiliate to build up his innings until he’s ready to join the Orioles. He told reporters in Florida Wednesday that he’s been throwing up to 75 to 80 pitches in recent bullpen sessions training in Arizona.

“That’s as good as we could do with the circumstances and not knowing [when he’d sign],” Cobb said. “But I feel like I’ve got my arm pretty well-conditioned. Saying that, it’s another ballgame when you get a batter in there and you get some real adrenaline going and you deal with the soreness that comes with that. We’ll have to do a good job with the training staff here and the front office of mapping out a pretty good idea of what we need to do to get ready.

“I’m going to be pushing as quick as I can [to pitch]. That’s going to be up to them.”

Ideally, Cobb would only miss a couple turns in the rotation, but that will depend on how he feels and how aggressive the Orioles want to be with a pitcher not quite three years removed from Tommy John surgery. For comparison, former Oriole Jake Arrieta will make his Grapefruit League debut for Philadelphia on Thursday, 10 days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract. Arrieta has said he intends to be ready to pitch during the first week of the season, but the Phillies haven’t committed to that happening.

This revelation about Cobb isn’t a surprise with him signing so late in spring training, but the timing isn’t ideal for a club aiming to start fast after last September’s collapse that resulted in a last-place finish. Manager Buck Showalter will be the first to tell you that the early schedule won’t do his club any favors.

The Orioles open the season with a three-game home series against Minnesota next Thursday before embarking on a seven-game road trip with stops in Houston and the Bronx. If you’re keeping track, that’s 10 straight contests against 2017 playoff teams to open the season.

Baltimore then returns home for a three-game set with Toronto before going back on the road for another seven-game trip that includes a four-game set at Fenway Park and a series in Detroit. Yes, that’s 14 of the first 20 contests away from Camden Yards with 14 of those against 2017 postseason qualifiers.

The Orioles finally begin their first extended homestand of the season on April 20 with defending American League Central champion Cleveland coming to town for a four-game set. And, oh yeah, they enjoy only one scheduled off-day from March 30-April 29, so there aren’t exactly early opportunities to skip a spot in the rotation until Cobb arrives, meaning a former No. 5 starter candidate such as Mike Wright, Nestor Cortes, or Miguel Castro will likely be in line to fill in.

“We’ve already looked at some potential scenarios,” said Showalter about Cobb’s timetable to make his season debut. “I’ll want to get some feedback from him first. We want it to be right, but we’ll move as quickly as we can.”

The old saying goes that you can’t win the pennant in April, but the Orioles can’t afford to bury themselves either. Stiff competition, a road-heavy schedule, and very few early breaks are hardly optimal conditions for a good start.

The rest of the rotation will need to pick up the early slack before the accomplished former Tampa Bay Ray is ready to make an impact for his new club. The Orioles hope it’s sooner rather than later.