It happens seemingly every year on almost every team: One starting pitcher never gets any run support.
For the Orioles this year, Ubaldo Jimenez is that guy.
In 11 of his 14 starts, the Orioles have scored three or fewer runs. In six of those, they have scored one or less, including Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Jimenez allowed two runs in six innings against a good-hitting Blue Jays team, yet picked up his eighth loss of the year because the Orioles’ bats again went cold.
It’s coincidence, of course. It’s not as if the Orioles are trying to score fewer runs when Jimenez, the club’s big free-agent pitching acquisition this winter, is pitching.
But you also have to wonder whether Jimenez’s deliberate pace, penchant for walks, and escalating pitch counts contribute to the Orioles' sluggish offense when he is on the mound. He has walked five batters in each of his past two games and has walked 22 batters in his past 24 innings.
“I don’t think it’s a pace issue,” Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. “It seems like there’s one guy every year [who gets little run support], 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.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter also isn’t going to connect any dots, saying his hitters are weak-minded to the point that extended innings on defense correlate to lesser concentration at the plate.
“It's not somebody consciously going through that mentally,” Showalter said. “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 is now 2-8 with a 4.86 ERA. The Orioles are 3-11 in games he has started. That’s tough enough to swallow for a guy who will be paid $50 million over four years to stabilize the rotation. But what really hurts is that he has particularly underperformed at Camden Yards.
Friday was just his second quality start in seven outings at home this year. He has yet to win in front of the home crowd: He’s 0-6 with a 6.38 ERA in those games.
Obviously, the key stat is ERA, not wins. Yet there is no question that not winning at home is weighing on him.
“What can you do? The only thing I can do is go out there and try to do my best,” Jimenez said. “One of these days, it’s going to come. it’s not going to last forever that I don't have a win here.”
** With all the negativity surrounding Manny Machado this week, he has at least appeared to have broken out of his slump. He was 0-for-his-past-18 entering Thursday's game. He doubled in his first at-bat against Toronto and now is 4-for-7 overall with a walk in the series. On Friday, he was 3-for-4 with a double — his second three-hit game of the season and first since May 18.
His one out Friday wasn’t a very good at-bat, however. With the Orioles trailing by two in the bottom of the seventh, J.J. Hardy on second with no outs and Toronto starter Drew Hutchinson pushing 90 pitches on the night, Machado swung at the first pitch he saw and hit a lazy flyout to center.
So it wasn’t a perfect night, but Machado has looked more comfortable the past two days. And that begs the question: Does it have anything to do with where he is batting in the order?
“That's a good question. I didn't really discuss it a lot with him,” Showalter said. “If you ask him, he'd rather be hitting higher. But I haven’t asked him. I don't think he's been doing this long enough to have an opinion on it.”
Machado was dropped from second to seventh in the order Wednesday and was hitless in three at-bats. But he has since had two solid games batting seventh. Yes, it’s a super-small sample size. But the sense is that he may be there for a little while, at least until it appears he has gotten his stroke back.
** The Orioles lost a key replay challenge in the eighth Friday when it was ruled that Nelson Cruz was out at first on a bang-bang play that ended the inning. Showalter challenged the call, and it appeared that first baseman Edwin Encarnacion’s foot came off the bag before he caught the ball.
After an umpires’ review of 2 minutes, 13 seconds, the call stood.
Afterward, the Orioles got the sense that the officials in New York didn’t necessarily believe the initial call was right, and that the the ruling on the field was not overturned only because the replays were inconclusive.
If so, that’s a tough break. The Orioles would have had the bases loaded and J.J. Hardy, the tying run, coming to the plate.
Then again, there’s no crying in baseball. Without instant replay in place, the call would have been out, anyway.