By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
11:31 PM EDT, April 2, 2014
During Ubaldo Jimenez’s highly-anticipated Orioles debut on Wednesday night, the right-hander showed the home crowd at Camden Yards flashes of why the Orioles signed him to most lucrative deal given a free-agent starting pitcher in club history.
He painted the outside part of the plate with his fastball against a patient Boston Red Sox batting order and recorded six strikeouts – four of them looking – the first two times through the order against the defending World Champions.
But with one pitch, Jimenez received a rough introduction to the rigors of pitching in the American League East in a 6-2 Orioles loss to the Red Sox in front of an announced 25,708 at Camden Yards.
Jimenez -- who allowed just one home run over his final 12 starts of last season in helping the Cleveland Indians push to the postseason – yielded two homers in his Orioles debut, including a game-winning two-run shot to first baseman Mike Napoli in the fifth inning.
Jimenez – who signed a four-year, $50 million deal in February – allowed four runs on five hits over six innings with three walks on a night when he didn’t get much help from the vaunted Orioles offense.
“He pitches like that all year, he'll win his share of games," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Jimenez was one pitch away from getting out of the fifth inning tied at 2, but he hung an 0-2 fastball that Napoli crushed over the wall in straight-away center field.
“I would definitely like to have that back,” Jimenez said. “Big mistake. I was trying to go away and left it right down the middle.
In the second inning, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz turned on an inside 1-1 fastball for a two-run homer onto the flag court beyond right field.
“I was pitching [well] besides those two pitches,” Jimenez said. “The one to David, that was a good pitch. It seems like he was looking for that pitch and he hit it good. ... I have to work on getting the ball down. I had too many fly balls and I have to fix it that right away.
“You always want to win,” Jimenez added. “It doesn’t matter if it is your first time or last one or in mid-season. You always want to win. But it is part of the game. That’s how it goes. I still have 30 more games to go. I have to get ready for my next one.”
In five career starts against the Red Sox, Jimenez is 1-3 with a 10.27 ERA.
Meanwhile, the Orioles were handcuffed by Red Sox right-hander John Lackey, who held Baltimore to three hits over six innings. His only blemish was Nelson Cruz’s game-tying two-run homer in the fourth inning – Cruz’s second homer in as many games as an Oriole.
“He threw strikes and located,” catcher Matt Wieters said of Lackey. “He was able to sort of cut the ball in and out. He located all night. Seemed like we were down 0-2 before we could get a pitch over the middle to hit.”
Cruz – who was signed to complement the Orioles' offense – has essentially been the Orioles’ offense through two games.
After hitting the game-winning homer -- a seventh-inning solo shot -- in Monday’s season opener, Cruz hit a two-run opposite-field shot on Wednesday to tie the game at 2 in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Cruz took a high 0-2 fastball from Lackey and planted it just over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field.
Cruz, who is a career .353 hitter against the Red Sox, has both driven in and scored three of the Orioles' four runs in their first two games of the season against Boston.
The Orioles (1-1) didn’t have an at bat with a runner in scoring position all night.
“[We’ve faced] two good pitchers, two of the better pitchers in the American League last year,” Showalter said of facing Boston’s Jon Lester and Lackey in the first two games. “But our guys don't look at that as an excuse not to do well.
“Nobody likes to face them, but they look forward to the challenge,” Showalter added. “You wouldn't be at this level if you didn't like those challenges. Like I've said many times, when a pitcher's on top of his game and a hitter's on top of his game, the pitcher wins more times than not. That's why pitching is at such a premium.”
Ortiz’s homer -- which was his first hit against Jimenez in 11 career plate appearances against the right-hander – was his 432nd career home run, passing Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. for 45th on the all-time list.
Napoli added insurance for Boston (1-1) with a two-run single off reliever Ryan Webb, the Red Sox’s first hit in 13 at bats this season with runners in scoring position.
After right fielder Daniel Nava reached on a one-out single, second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit a ball down the third base line that Ryan Flaherty gloved and threw wildly past first baseman Chris Davis for an error, placing runners at second and third.
Webb intentionally walked Ortiz to load the bases and create a double-play situation, but Napoli laced a single to left that plated two and gave the Red Sox a 6-2 lead.
“I thought we were [in it] at 4-2, but the other two they tacked on made for a whole different environment those last few innings," Showalter said.
Left-hander Brian Matusz prevented further damage in the seventh, inducing an inning-ending pop-up from Grady Sizemore. Matusz stranded two baserunners that inning and has stranded 50 of 55 inherited baserunners bating back to the 2012 season.
Lackey, who allowed just two hits after Nick Markakis led off the bottom of the first with a single, struck out six and walked one.
He improved his career mark against the Orioles to 14-5 – his .737 winning percentage against Baltimore is his second best against all American League clubs – and has allowed just three runs in his last two starts against the Orioles, spanning 15 innings.
“He was hitting each part of the plate,” Orioles left fielder David Lough said. “He was locating really, really well and he was on tonight. We kind of weren’t, offensively.”
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun