Ten starts into his Orioles career, the organization is still trying to figure out which Ubaldo Jimenez they signed.
At times, Jimenez has been dominating, as he was during a three-start stretch this month. But when he’s struggled, it hasn’t been pretty.
Such was the case on Saturday afternoon, when Jimenez labored through his shortest start of the season against his former team as the Orioles were on the short side of a 9-0 drubbing – their most lopsided loss of the season -- at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in front of an announced 36,873 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (24-23) lost for the ninth time in their last 13 games and were shut out for the fourth time this season.
The club is convinced there’s a fine line between Jimenez at his best and his worst.
“It's kind of been like that his whole career,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You like it when it's in sync, and it was very close to that today. But it's a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2 [counts]. We haven't done a very good job lately of using some counts in our favor. You've seen some 1-2 and 0-2 walks.”
After posting quality starts in his first three May outings and pitching to a 0.47 ERA in that stretch, Jimenez has allowed 10 runs over his past two starts for an ERA of 10.00.
Jimenez, who the Orioles signed in February to a four-year, $50-million deal -- a club record for a free agent pitcher -- suffered through a disastrous April, but recovered nicely when the calendar switched to May.
On Saturday, Jimenez recorded just 12 outs and was chased from a five-run fifth inning without retiring a batter.
“It looked like I was just missing a little bit of the strike zone,” Jimenez said. “I’m not that far away, but I’m missing. I’m falling behind in the count, getting myself into trouble. Today was walking the leadoff guy.”
Hindered by what Showalter said was a tight strike zone, Jimenez tied a season-high with five walks. All three batters he walked in the fifth scored.
“What did we walk five guys today, something like that?” Showalter said. “You're not going to win too many games with that.”
As his pitch count ballooned through the early innings on Saturday, it appeared that Jimenez was destined for a short outing even before the Indians' first seven hitters reached based in the fifth inning.
Jimenez was forced into several deep counts – six of the first eight batters he faced went to full counts –and he was already at 52 pitches after two innings. Jimenez said his high pitch count early in the game cost him in the fifth.
“You’re going to be a little bit tired because you’ve been throwing too many pitches in the first few innings,” Jimenez said. “You have to be more aggressive because you don’t want to be out of the game right away.”
The fifth inning has given Jimenez trouble this season. He’s allowed 12 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings in the fifth for a 12.46 ERA, his highest of any inning.
The trouble in the fifth began when Jimenez issued a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana – who drew three walks and hit a first-pitch two-run homer in the game. Santana came around to score following back-to-back singles by Yan Gomes and Justin Sellers, the bottom two hitters in the Cleveland lineup.
Michael Bourn drew another walk and Mike Aviles’ single put the Indians (24-26) up 2-0 and chased Jimenez from the game after 99 pitches.
“I started walking guys,” Jimenez said. “That got me in trouble. And then a base hit and another ground ball base hit and then blooper. The big thing was walking the leadoff guy.”
Left-hander T.J. McFarland didn’t fare much better, as all three inherited runners scored. He hit Michael Brantley with a pitch to plate one run and Lonnie Chisenhall singled to right to score another.
The Orioles didn’t record an out in the inning until Ryan Raburn, the eighth batter of the frame, hit into a double play that scored the fifth run of the inning.
Jimenez is now 2-6 on the season with a 4.98 ERA.
“He just didn’t have it today,” Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger said. “The ball was cutting a little bit sometimes, and doing different things. Like I said, he’s going to learn from this in his next bullpen session and he’s going to get better next time.”
The Orioles recorded just one extra base hit – Nelson Cruz’s one-out double in the fourth inning – as right-hander Corey Kluber handcuffed the Orioles’ bats over seven shutout innings, allowing just five hits while striking out nine and walking two in arguably the best start of his career.
“Lot of late-recognition cutters that we knew he was going to do,” Showalter said. “And then enough fastballs to make the cutter appear to be a fastball a lot of the time. Then, mix in the breaking ball enough. Good mechanics, good command. [We were] fortunate that there were some borderline calls against him, because he was around the plate most of the day.”
The Indians posted a four-run inning in the seventh, with two of those runs coming on Santana’s homer off Brad Brach onto the grounds crew shed in right-center field. Brach had just entered the game one batter after Raburn hit a two-run double to left.
The Orioles had scored six or more runs and recorded 12 or more hits in five straight games before the bats went cold on Saturday.
“[Kluber was] mixing all his pitches in there, throwing everything for strikes, and when his command is on, he’s going to be very successful, and he was today,” Clevenger said.