PEORIA, Ariz. — Alex Cobb began 2022 in the fifth and final spot in the Giants’ rotation, an indication of tough road that preceded his signing in San Francisco. This year, he earned a promotion: Cobb, 35, will slot in behind Logan Webb as the Giants’ No. 2 starter, a statement of how far he’s come.
“I feel honored to get the ball that game, really just with where my career has been,” Cobb said after his latest and most effective spring outing, tossing five scoreless innings against the Mariners in a 0-0 tie on Thursday. “Early in my career, I definitely felt like I was a top-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. I had some tough surgeries that I had to battle back from. … I’m just thankful that I’ve had that ability to come back, because there were some dark times in the mind trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.”
The Giants open the season March 30 in the Bronx against the Yankees.
While their Opening Day starter (Webb) remains the same from last season, it will be Cobb in the second rotation spot vacated by Carlos Rodón, who will be in the opposing dugout but not on the mound because of a forearm strain. While no one of the Giants’ starters can match the octane brought by Rodón last season, they believe their deep and experienced group can be even better, banking on Cobb repeating or improving on his breakout 2022.
Last year, Cobb drew attention in spring training for his increased velocity — up to 96 mph, thanks to work at Driveline — and maintained it throughout the season, as he posted his lowest ERA (3.73) since 2017 and a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) almost a full run lower, 2.80, the best mark of his career.
This spring, Cobb has been just as effective, still sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball. But he’s incorporated two new pitches, at least one of which he plans to debut at Yankee Stadium in the Giants’ second game of the season.
“I think you’ll definitely be seeing the slider,” Cobb said, in addition to his usual sinker-splitter-curveball offerings.
Cobb has also been experimenting with a cutter. That pitch, however, isn’t quite game ready. In an odd twist, that specific pitch, Cobb said, is only good when his delivery is bad, so better go with the four pitches that work when everything else is on, too.
“I have a feeling that when I’m not sharp, as weird as that is, with my delivery, my cutter is better,” Cobb said. “When I’m doing the proper things to make the split and the two-seam do what they do, the cutter might not be there. As I continue bullpens and in these types of games and settings, I’ll keep playing with it. But I definitely think there’s room for the slider to have a good percentage of pitches throughout the game.”
In four starts this spring, Cobb has struck out 18 and walked only two over 13 innings. Since his uncomfortable introduction to the pitch clock in his first outing, tagged by the Padres for four runs over two innings, he has allowed only two runs over his past 11 frames, a 1.64 ERA.
On Thursday, Cobb tossed five scoreless innings and struck out five. He didn’t walk a batter and surrendered only three hits.
In the metric that the Giants weigh more than any other number in spring training — strikeout to walk ratio — Cobb is excelling.
“That’s the ideal combination, for sure,” Cobb said. “We’ve definitely put an emphasis on pounding the zone. … There’s a couple instances today where I had two strikes and they rolled over softly to the right side, but those aren’t guaranteed to be outs anymore with the shift being gone. So the emphasis on strikeouts is going to be big.”
— Following Cobb’s five innings, Sean Hjelle worked four scoreless frames and continued to impress manager Gabe Kapler, who said Thursday morning he is still in consideration for the final spot in the Giants’ bullpen but could also head to Triple-A Sacramento and remain stretched out as a starter. Hjelle struck out four, walked two and allowed two hits against Seattle. “Hjelle, I think has really taken steps forward,” Kapler said. “(He) came in here with something to prove and has absolutely done so, so far.”
— In his first time playing the field this spring, Austin Slater (elbow) exited earlier than planned, but not with anything concerning the injury that kept him out of the first half of the Cactus League schedule. Slater left after the fifth inning with cramping in his calf, Kapler said. He reached base in both trips to the plate and stole both second and third his second time on the bases.
— Outfield prospect Bryce Johnson also left the game early. Johnson, 27, was hit by a pitch in the left foot and was pulled for precautionary reasons, Kapler said.