The results that right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez has received in his first three starts with the Orioles — an unsightly 0-3 record and a 7.31 ERA — would have most pitchers searching for answers, especially while trying to meet the expectations of a club-record four-year, $50 million contract.
Jimenez looks at the situation differently. Following the Orioles' 11-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, Jimenez can draw from recent experience and know that he can rebound from his rocky first few outings in an Orioles uniform.
"He's got the right mentality," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's been through tough times before, but he wants it to end now. I guarantee you. I understand what the numbers say, but you guys have seen it. It's very close to being some quality outings, but at this level and against this competition, close sometimes gets you in trouble."
Jimenez, 30, couldn't get out of the sixth inning Sunday against an aggressive, fastball-feasting Blue Jays lineup at Camden Yards in front of an announced 39,281. He allowed 12 base runners over 51/3 innings, yielding five runs and 10 hits — both season highs — in his third start of the year. Overall, Toronto launched a 17-hit attack against Orioles pitching that included three long home runs.
The Orioles (5-7) have now lost three of their first four series of the season and scored just five total runs in three games against the Blue Jays this weekend. The offense's highlight — back-to-back solo homers by Chris Davis and Matt Wieters —occurred with two outs in the eighth inning, long after the game was out of reach.
"I think the biggest thing for us is just to relax, knowing we have a full season in front of us," said Davis, who hit his first home run of the year Sunday after leading the major leagues with 53 last season. "We can't win the World Series in one game. We are still doing some things right. I try to look at the positive side of things, having good at-bats, good defense. Our pitching will come around, and our bats will start getting hot."
Orioles starting pitchers didn't allow any earned runs over 15 innings in the first two games of the series as Bud Norris and Chris Tillman held Toronto (7-6) in check. But after his start Sunday, Jimenez now has allowed 13 earned runs and 23 hits over 16 innings this season.
Jimenez, however, isn't a stranger to slow starts.
His career ERA in April is 5.55, the highest of any month of the season. And last season he posted an 11.25 ERA through the season's first three starts with the Cleveland Indians. But after that stretch, he went 13-7 with a 2.74 ERA in his final 29 starts.
"I think it really was the same [last year], because even right now, I'm having innings where I'm right there, and I get people out right away, and I get ahead of the hitters," said Jimenez, who threw just one perfect inning Sunday. "It was like that last year, just one pitch, just two pitches, one situation when I got a runner on base and let everything happen. Pretty much, I feel good. I just feel like I'm a pitch away or an inning away to be good."
Showalter said he can trust that track record.
"If you look at his history, he gets better as the year goes on," Showalter said. "He had some challenges last year and came on real strong. You trust the person and the character. He's in good standing where that's concerned. He'll keep fighting. He'll work his way through it."
Ironically, that rough opening stretch last season came against the same three teams — Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Blue Jays — that he has faced so far this year. But Jimenez said his opponents shouldn't matter.
"It doesn't matter who you're facing," Jimenez said. "If you're facing a low-A team or a big league team, you still want to be there and do the fundamental part of pitching, getting ahead, keeping the ball down and executing the pitches," Jimenez said. "I think, if you do that, it doesn't matter who you're facing, you're going to be successful. That's something I haven't been doing right now. That's why I'm getting hammered."
Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle gave up a run in the first inning before holding the Orioles scoreless for the rest of his outing. Buehrle held the Orioles to just five hits over seven innings and allowed just two singles following Steve Pearce's leadoff double in the second inning.
"Obviously, they were swinging early," Buehrle said. "I had to mix it up and work on location, maybe mix in a couple extra pitches. Defense was behind me, and we scored some runs. Any time those things happen, I like my chances."
The Orioles had a chance to jump on Buehrle early when Nick Markakis led off the first inning with a long single off the right-field wall and Delmon Young followed with a double, but the Orioles only scored a single run. They also stranded Pearce at third base after his leadoff double in the second inning and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position overall.
"I just think it's a combination of things," Davis said. "I think as an offense, we definitely want to score some more runs early in the game. When you go up there and put up a run early, you've got to continue to score runs. Tip your hat to Buehrle. He's been around. He knows how to pitch. He used our aggressiveness against us today. It just kind of got away from us."
Davis broke out of his homerless drought in the eighth inning against Toronto reliever Esmil Rogers with a solo shot over the center-field fence. Wieters followed with his team-leading third home run of the season on a ball that landed on the flag court in right field. That marked the first time the Orioles had hit back-to-back homers since Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth did it last Sept. 24 against the Blue Jays.
The Orioles bullpen had allowed just one run — Colby Rasmus' game-tying ninth-inning homer off closer Tommy Hunter on Saturday night — over six innings in the series heading into Sunday's game, but Toronto rocked reliever Josh Stinson for six runs and seven hits over two innings.
Despite the lopsided loss, Orioles hitters believed the entire outcome of the game could have been different if they had backed Jimenez with an early lead.
"He's a veteran guy," Davis said. "He knows what he is doing out there. I can't imagine pitching behind all the time, so as an offense and as a defense, we just got to continue to go out there and have good at-bats and pick it up behind him. He's a guy that knows what it's like.
"He's been through the fire, and we know he's going to be there for us."