Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez’s biggest goal in spring training is to make certain mechanical adjustments in his delivery feel like second nature, so he can concentrate on getting hitters out instead of on his form.
That’s a major reason the Orioles started him in their Grapefruit League opener: to ensure that Jimenez would get seven outings this spring. It’s also why the Orioles have Jimenez making most of his starts on the road, where he can face better lineups while refining his delivery.
Results have been mixed. His pitching lines haven’t been sparkling, but bit by bit, he seems to be making progress.
In his third spring training start, a 5-3 loss Friday afternoon to the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Jimenez reached his innings total for the first time this spring, becoming the first Orioles pitcher to record four full innings.
Jimenez allowed three runs, all in the second inning, on five hits over those four innings. But most important, he didn’t walk a batter. He had issued seven walks over his previous two spring appearances.
“Tool-wise, I was able to put everything in the game, the things that I’ve been working on,” Jimenez said. “My mechanics, I think it’s been the best, because I had really good command of the fastball. … I felt really comfortable out there. I could throw the fastball wherever I wanted, inside or outside. I felt good.”
Jimenez is one of six Orioles (3-8) starters competing for five rotation spots this spring. His place in the rotation is by no means guaranteed after he struggled with his control and eventually was demoted to the bullpen last season, the first year of a four-year, $50 million contract.
“It would be different if we had never had him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He has a year under his belt. We kind of know when it’s good and when it’s challenging. I think the other team tells you as much as the line does. It’s not like he’s getting cuffed around. Last year, it was just trying to keep a good atmosphere around when he pitches, try to get that. Everyone is dying to embrace him. I know our fans, and if he can help the Orioles win, [they will like him]. That’s up to us. You’ve got to give them something to embrace you about.”
Jimenez saw Friday’s outing as a step forward. He entered the afternoon having allowed seven innings over 3 1/3 innings and having been removed midinning in both outings after reaching his pitch count prematurely.
Agains Toronto, Jimenez demonstrated his best control of the spring. Not only did he not walk a batter, but 42 of his 63 pitches were strikes as well.
Jimenez still had a few problems: He threw two wild pitches and hit a batter to open the three-run second inning.
He retired the Blue Jays (4-7) in order on just eight pitches in the first inning. After he hit Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista to start that inning and Bautista moves to second on a wild pitch, Daric Barton plated the first run with an RBI single. Later in the inning, after a single by former Oriole Danny Valencia, Chris Dickerson hit a two-run double down the right-field line. Dickerson was thrown out trying to extend the hit to a triple, with second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s relay nabbing him.
“Just a couple of hits, and then a bad pitch for a double, and that’s it,” Jimenez said. “It’s not like I got in trouble for walking guys or anything. It’s just part of the game.”
The leadoff batter reached base in the third and fourth innings, but Jimenez prevented further damage. In the third, he picked off shortstop Jose Reyes after Reyes had reached on a bunt single. He also stranded Bautista, who hit a leadoff single in the next inning and advanced on a wild pitch, at third base.
“It felt great, especially going to the fourth inning. It was the first time I’ve done it this year,” Jimenez said. “Especially having a guy at third base and leaving him there, I felt really good.”
Jimenez will have four more spring training outings before the season begins.
“We still have another three weeks down here,” Showalter said. “That’s why we started him right after the chute to give him as much [innings as possible]. That being said, we’re going to find out who the best five are.”
The Orioles took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Caleb Joseph’s RBI single and a run-scoring double by Henry Urrutia.
Toronto extended its lead to 5-2 in the sixth on Valencia’s two-run single.
In the ninth, Urrutia singled to score Dariel Alvarez and cut the deficit to two.