PORT CHARLOTTE — Jake Odorizzi floated out of his meeting late Saturday afternoon when he learned he’d made the Tampa Bay Rays rotation and went in search of the man he felt responsible for his accomplishment: Alex Cobb.
The ensuing conversation went something like this:
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
“I think that was the coolest thing that happened to me in my career,” Cobb said.
Odorizzi beat out Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard this spring to earn a spot on his first Opening Day roster largely because of the pitch he learned from Cobb after the start of camp. It as a splitter/changeup that fellow pitcher Jeremy Hellickson nicknamed, “The Thing.”
“It’s really transformed me as a pitcher,” Odorizzi said the day after receiving the spot in the rotation that will be opened until early June while Hellickson rehabs from his elbow surgery.
Odorizzi gave Cobb credit while talking with reporters Saturday afternoon and again Sunday morning. While Cobb appreciated the gesture, he said it wasn’t necessary.
“That was special, but I don’t feel that way, that I made him make the team,” Cobb said. “What he’s done has made him make the team. The polished pitcher that he’s become is what made him make the team. It was really humbling to hear someone thank you and in their eyes they think you were a part of helping them make a big league team.”
While Cobb said the sharing of information is common in the Rays clubhouse – pitchers showing each other grips and hitters exchanging tips – he said he couldn’t recall hearing a player thank another for their role in helping that player make the team.
“No, I think most guys are too proud of their own accomplishments, and they should be for everything they’ve done,” Cobb said. “I honestly did not do too much for him. I showed him the pitch. All I did was what any other teammate would do. All I was doing was being a teammate to him and helping out a friend with a pitch that helped me.”
By learning how to throw “The Thing” effectively, Odorizzi now has an out-pitch he can throw to left-handers. His fastball and curveball and cutter are effective against right-handers. Odorizzi liked to throw his changeup to lefties, but he didn’t have much confidence in the pitch.
Since both he and Cobb have similar mechanics with similar arm slots, Odorizzi felt “The Thing” would be a pitch he could learn in a relatively brief amount of time.
It’s not unusual for a pitcher to scrap one pitch for another during spring training. Rays relievers Jake McGee has shelved his slider for a curveball and Brandon Gomes ditched his slider in favor of a cutter Jamey Wright showed him last August. Gomes said he texted Wright on Sunday night to let him know how well the cutter is working this spring.
But to learn a new pitch and compete for your first job on an Opening Day roster is a risk not many young pitchers are willing to make.
“It could have been risky to try and abandon a pitch and create a new one at the start of spring especially in competition form, but I knew I needed to do it,” Odorizzi said. “If it was going to be good, I knew it would help me out a ton, so everything kind of aligned perfectly. It’s where I’d like it to be. Being here I think has a great deal to do with it. Now, going into the season and having that is the best option I could possibly have.”
Odorizzi was in line for the fifth spot had David Price been traded in the offseason because of the way he developed last season -- a 0.47 ERA in his last six starts at Triple-A Durham. That Price is still a Ray seemed to spell another Opening Day in Durham for Odorizzi. Then Hellickson had the surgery, and Odorizzi became the favorite for the fifth spot. Then the Rays created a competition, which Odorizzi, with the help of Cobb, won.
Would Odorizzi have made the team without his new pitch?
“It’s possible,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I can’t tell you for sure. But definitely, that was very attractive.”