In three years with the Baltimore Orioles, Alex Cobb made 41 starts and registered a 5.10 ERA. He lost almost a whole year from Tommy John surgery and another with a back injury.
On Friday, Cobb made his 40th start as a Giant in his second year with the organization. Since then, he’s been durable and productive for San Francisco — even while the Orioles are still sending him checks in deferred salary.
By making his fourth scoreless start of the season, Cobb improved his 2023 ERA to 2.71 and silenced his former team.
Cobb allowed five hits while striking out seven in 7.2 innings. He didn’t walk a batter and used his split-fingered fastball to keep the Giants’ lead they built with a third-inning rally intact. He left to a standing ovation from the Oracle Park crowd and halted the Giants’ losing streak at three.
“He had a really good split,” manager Gabe Kapler said postgame. “All over the zone, obviously. Totally in control of his pace, his rhythm. Getting ahead, staying ahead. Efficient. Just a really good outing.”
According to MLB researcher Sarah Langs, Cobb’s four scoreless starts of at least seven innings are already the most as a Giant in a single-season since Madison Bumgarner in 2018.
Behind Cobb, who improved his record to 5-2, the Giants (29-29) climbed back to .500 with a 4-0 victory. LaMonte Wade Jr. hits two doubles and reached base two more times, powering the offense along with a strong spot-start from Wilmer Flores.
Flores, respected as a consummate professional around the game, has had his playing time diminish since Casey Schmitt broke into the league three weeks ago. He’d started two of San Francisco’s last 11 games before Saturday, and didn’t play at all in four of them.
But the Giants entrusted Flores with the cleanup spot against the Orioles. Kapler invited him into his office for a pregame chat about his evolving role, expressing empathy for the veteran.
“I can speak from personal experience: that is as challenging as any job in the sport,” Kapler said of losing everyday opportunities. “ So I just wanted Wilmer to know that I know what he’s going through, to some degree, and wanted him to know that I acknowledge that I haven’t put him in the best spots to have success.”
“He hasn’t complained about it one time,” Kapler added.
Flores doubled in the first inning and played a major role in San Francisco’s three-run third inning. The 31-year-old’s two-RBI single up the middle was the Giants’ fourth of five consecutive hits in the frame.
LaMonte Wade Jr., who claimed the 100th Splash Hit Friday night, ignited that rally with a double. He added a ground-rule double later to go with two walks. And Flores went 3-for-4 in his rare starting opportunity.
Cobb, meanwhile, retired 12 straight Orioles. His split-fingered fastball was especially filthy, and he upped the usage on the pitch to almost twice as much as he normally does.
Cobb struck out the side in the second — all on splitters — and earned not one, but two mentions from the popular Twitter account Pitching Ninja.
In his pregame bullpen session, Cobb’s splitter felt good. He’d been stewing night and day since his last start — a seven earned-run dud that left him feeling “lost.”
“It’s all day,” Cobb said of how much he was thinking about his mechanics. “After a seven spot? Wake up in the middle of the night (thinking about it), going to the bathroom, playing with the kids. Whatever it is, you’re thinking about it.”
Rediscovering a repeatable delivery was much more motivating than facing his former team, Cobb said. And after delivering just two pitches, he recognized that he found something.
The veteran starter allowed just two hits in the first five innings. Cobb stayed in the strike zone to moderate his pitch count; his 79th pitch of the night ended the sixth inning.
Austin Slater, as a pinch-hitter, lined a single up the middle to score Brandon Crawford in the sixth inning to give Cobb and the Giants an extra run.
With a 1-2-3 seventh inning, Cobb generated his seventh strikeout by getting Anthony Santander to chase. That punchout, like all of Cobb’s previous six, came on his splitter.
On the night, Cobb went to his splitter 57% of the time, up from his season average of 35%. Orioles batters took 36 cracks at the pitch and whiffed 14 times.
Then in the eighth, the Orioles put their second and third runners in scoring position against Cobb. The righty, and left-handed reliever Scott Alexander, stranded them both.
Cobb said his delivery felt better than it has all season — including when he spun his first complete game shutout since 2012. As Alexander recorded that third out from his backside on the mound, Cobb watched from the dugout as his latest clean sheet stayed pristine.
His impressive bounce back sets sets up a Sunday series rubber match. And if Cobb can build off how clean his pitching motion felt, the starter who is already in the top-10 among National League starters in ERA should be even better.
“It’s just been a journey for a long time for me to try to get a consistent delivery,” Cobb said. “I feel like tonight was one of the better, repeatable deliveries I’ve had for a long time.”