SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Every player will adjust to the plethora of new rules differently, but Giants starter Alex Cobb might have more work to do than most.
The righty was one of the most helped out by the shift last year, with a splitter that puts him atop the list of pitchers who produce both ground balls and and pulled hits.
On average, he took 10.9 seconds to deliver a pitch with no runners on and 16.6 seconds with traffic — both time that cut things close now.
And by choice, Cobb has tentatively decided to use PitchCom to call his own pitches. He’s also been playing around with a new cutter and slider, with the goal of eventually implementing them as extra weapons.
There’s a lot to unpack for the veteran, and Cobb has all spring to roll out the kinks. Tuesday, his first Cactus League start — a 7-5 Giants loss — served as an opportunity for him to experiment in a competitive environment. It also provided him results-based feedback.
Cobb’s conclusion? He’s not a fan.
“Didn’t feel like baseball,” Cobb said. “Didn’t feel like pitching. I’m used to throwing a pitch, going through the information at hand, and there’s just no time for that. I’m sure it’ll slow down, everybody says it will. But I really just felt like I was throwing. Not much else going on in my mind.”
Cobb’s comments made him the first Giant to publicly give the new rules an unambiguous two thumbs down.
“I think this is going to be a challenge to get up to speed for all pitchers,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Some of them are less used to thinking their way through things, and I think Cobb is a pretty cerebral pitcher out there on the mound. I just think it’s going to take some getting used to .But I’m pretty confident he’s going to get up to speed fast. I don’t think this is going to be a problem two weeks from now.”
In the first inning, Cobb was calling his own pitches. Right after delivering, he’d tap the PitchCom device on his belt for the next one. He’d also try to grab the rosin bag or run his fingers through his hair to improve his grip.
Precious seconds on the pitch clock were lost, and his command wasn’t sharp. He said the game felt faster than it looks on television.
“It really feels like it’s an endurance game,” Cobb said. “You’re going to go however many innings, an hour and a half, two hours of feeling like you’re in a sprint.”
Cobb walked Fernando Tatis Jr. and at one point threw seven consecutive balls. Tatis also swiped second base when Cobb stayed on the rubber instead of disengaging.
Right after deliveries, Cobb tapped the PitchCom device attached to his belt to signal his next choice. Just once was he tagged for a clock violation.
On the violation, Cobb delivered just as the clock struck zero. After the inning, he said the home plate umpire said it was simultaneous; umpires are setting an example this spring by enforcing the rules strictly.
“I mean, what are we — if we’re trying to get pace of play going, it takes more time to do that and call the ball,” Cobb said. “If it’s bang-bang, let’s just play baseball. It seems silly. And I think they’re trying to make it silly right now, honestly.”
Cobb ranked in the 96th percentile in barrel rate last year, but allowed two cracks in the first inning. First, Jake Cronenworth tagged him for an RBI triple to the wall in right-center.
After walking Matt Carpenter, Cobb and catcher Joey Bart met for a moment’s mound visit. Three more balls to David Dahl preceded a three-run homer that nearly cleared the grass behind the right-center wall.
On the home run, Cobb said the pace of the game leaked into his delivery, causing him to leave the pitch over the plate.
“It’s usually very challenging for us at this stage just to get our delivery right,” Cobb said. “That’s the only thing I’m really frustrated about today. I didn’t do much delivery. Just turned into a thrower and played defense against the clock the whole time.”
Cobb retired the side in the second after his taxing first Cactus League inning, but wore the rough start on his state line. He allowed four earned runs on two hits, two walks and struck out a pair.
In that inning, Cobb let Bart call pitches for him. They’re still searching for the right system that maximizes efficiency; Cobb said he felt rushed the entire time, except for warm-ups between innings.
Cobb said he’d like the league to tweak some rules such shutting off the clock once a pitcher comes set with a runner on base, but will have to work within the confines of what’s been established.
Hopefully, Cobb said, the rules will eventually become second nature to him.
“I think the overall idea of it, the goal of it, is good,” Cobb said. “We’re seeing 2:30 spring training games, which is great. We’re seeing constant action, which is great. I am a fan of the game, and I want to grow the game to the younger generation and whoever might not want to watch it because of the pace. So if that helps, I’m on board. But it’s challenging right now, I’ve been doing something for the past 20 years.”
- Bart, in the thick of an open catching competition, put together about as complete a game as possible. Not only did he blast a home run and an opposite field double off the fence, he also back-picked a runner off second base. That play, called by the catcher from PitchCom, will be more frequent league-wide this year in the era of disengagement restrictions.
The biggest things Bart needs to show this spring are improved defense and more contact in the batter’s box. He said he’s condensed his load and is working on being ready to identify and hit fastballs.
- Tatis last faced Major League pitching on Oct. 3, 2021 — the regular season finale. That winter, during the lockout, he injured his wrist in a motorcycle that required surgery. When he was nearly ready to return, MLB slapped him with an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
With Xander Bogaerts now in the mix, Tatis is expected to shift to the outfield. He served as designated hitter Tuesday, going 0-for-2 with a walk, steal and run.
Tatis is eligible to play in Cactus League games even though he still has 20 games left to serve on his suspension. His first regular season game is expected to be April 20.
With Tatis, Xander Bogaerts, Juan Soto and Manny Machado, the Padres are the preseason National League West favorites.
- Ross Stripling struck out three in two scoreless innings, giving up just one hit in his first appearance as a Giant. He’s coming off a 3.01 ERA and is expected to be a key cog in the rotation in 2023; his assignment out of the bullpen against San Diego doesn’t portend anything.