It wasn't pretty, but even as Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez seemed to walk a tightrope at times with his control problems Friday night against a dangerous Toronto Blue Jays lineup, he ultimately delivered a quality start.
For the Orioles' high-priced free-agent acquisition, that was a step forward. But as he labored through the early innings and battled through deep counts, his teammates' bats went cold.
The Orioles fell to the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays, 4-0, before an announced sellout crowd of 44,031 at Camden Yards, Jimenez's fourth straight loss.
The Orioles are 3-11 in games Jimenez has started this season. In seven starts at Camden Yards this season, he's 0-6.
The loss dropped the Orioles (34-32) 4 1/2 games back of the Blue Jays (40-29) in the American League East standings with two games remaining in the four-game series.
The Orioles, who suffered their fifth shutout loss of the season and their second in the past four games, haven't given Jimenez much help offensively. Not only have the Orioles also scored three or fewer runs in 11 of Jimenez's 14 starts, but they've also scored one run or less in six of them, including four of his past five outings.
Asked whether Jimenez's deliberate tempo on the mound has anything to do with their quiet bats, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said: “That's easy to say that's the reason.”
“It's not somebody consciously going through that mentally,” Showalter added. “If it is, that would be a pretty weak mental approach that I don't think we have. Sometimes you try to do too much. There's nothing worse in this game [than] pitching, hitting when you're trying almost too hard. The effort is always there. I don't think it's something our guys are aware of.”
Jimenez (2-8) allowed only two runs — both off Juan Francisco's second-inning homer — on three hits in six innings against a Toronto team that leads the AL in homers and is second in runs scored.
But Jimenez issued a season-high five walks for a second straight start, and he has 22 walks over the past 24 innings.
“I got two strikes and tried to be too fine with it,” Jimenez said. “Overall, I think I was pounding the strike zone. If you take away the five walks to those guys, I felt good. I was able to attack the strike zone.”
Since Jimenez's last start, a disastrous 2 1/3-inning, six-run outing Sunday against the Oakland Athletics, the Orioles' starting rotation has had five consecutive quality starts.
“I was able to hang in for the team,” Jimenez said. “I was able to at least get a quality start. I still have a lot of work. That's something that I need to still work on it. But I was good. I was ok.”
Meanwhile, Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison held the Orioles scoreless for seven innings, scattering six hits. In two starts spanning 13 innings against the Orioles this season, he hasn't allowed an earned run.
The Orioles still had their opportunities against Hutchison, but were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“We didn't score any runs tonight,” Showalter said. “No matter how [Jimenez] pitched, we didn't score any runs. And I thought he gave us a good chance to win a baseball game tonight. Most times, two runs against the club through six innings" gives you a chance.”
Jimenez dodged danger throughout the night, but he limited the Blue Jays' damage against him to Francisco's blast in the second inning.
After Brett Lawrie drew a one-out walk, Francisco crushed a 1-0 fastball over the middle of the plate into the Orioles bullpen in left-center field for his 11th homer of the season.
Jimenez was aided by some timely Orioles defense. He received double-play balls to end the first and second inning. Manny Machado, who had three hits Friday, also made a nice sliding snag at third on Jose Bautista's sharp hopper into the hole, ending the third inning.
After a two-out walk that immediately followed Francisco's homer, Jimenez retired nine straight Toronto batters and allowed just three additional base runners, including one hit.
The Orioles had base runners in each of the first four innings against Hutchison but couldn't break through against the Toronto right-hander. They loaded the bases in the fourth inning after back-to-back, two-out singles from J.J. Hardy and Machado, but Jonathan Schoop's deep fly ball to center was caught at the warning track for the final out.
Hardy opened the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff double down the left-field line, but he was stranded at second after a pair of one-pitch flyouts by Machado and Schoop and an inning-ending flyout by catcher Caleb Joseph.
“He had really good stuff tonight,” Joseph said of Hutchison. “He's got a good angle on his ball, so he kind of starts out behind you, and he's able to sink it and run it and got a real tight slider, and run it up there at 93 [mph]. Just kept us off balance, and couldn't get anything going off of him. Credit him. Ubaldo pitched great, but their guy pitched just a little bit better.”
After a 21-minute rain delay, the Blue Jays quickly scored two runs, one earned, in the top of the eighth off Orioles right-hander Tommy Hunter.
After Hunter opened the inning walking No. 9 hitter Anthony Gose, Jose Reyes reached on a grounder that deflected off Hunter's glove and skipped past Schoop at second for an error.
Gose then scored on Hunter's wild pitch, and two batters later, Bautista looped a single to center to score Reyes and put the Blue Jays up 4-0.
“It's a long inning, obviously, but it's the same for both teams,” Showalter said of the rain delay. “It's part of what we do. Nothing's always convenient and 70 degrees. They don't change the conditions for one team or the other. … It's been kind of a jagged edge the whole season, but we can't do anything about the weather.”
Not as simple to explain is the Orioles' struggles with Jimenez on the mound.
“I don't think it's a pace issue,” Joseph said. “It seems like there's one guy every year, and there's really no rhyme or reason to it. Pretty sure every guy in here wants to win every single day. It's one of those weird coincidences. The games he has really pitched well, we don't score runs for him. His record indicates that. We're trying out there as best as we can to win the game. He's giving us a chance, so we have a chance.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun