LAKELAND, FLA. — If the Orioles' 15-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday afternoon served any purpose, it was to be an abrupt reminder that the rebuilding of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez won't happen overnight.
After nearly two weeks of workouts on the Ed Smith Stadium complex back fields, the Orioles finally faced competition in their Grapefruit League opener at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter chose to give the start to Jimenez, whose struggles last season — his first in Baltimore — have been well-documented.
Jimenez finished the season strong after being banished to the bullpen, where he made a slight adjustment to his delivery and finished the year by winning his final two starts. Showalter has said that progress carried over into Jimenez's bullpen sessions this spring.
But on Tuesday, Jimenez retired just four of the 11 batters he faced and was pulled from the game in the second inning. He was charged with six runs — five earned — over 11/3 innings.
"It's the first day of spring for a lot of people, but he's only going to get better," Showalter said. "What, we've got six seven more starts? That's the reasons we started him first, want to get him as many outings and stuff under his belt with some of the things he's working on.
"I know what it looks like statistically," Showalter added. "There were a lot of guys that struggled today. We weren't very crisp."
The 31-year-old Jimenez, who was 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in the first year of a four-year, $50 million deal, made strides last August after making a tweak in his delivery — he no longer raises his hands above and behind his head — that he said helped maintain his fastball command.
But on Tuesday, Jimenez looked more like the pitcher who struggled with his control throughout most of last season.
"If you see the scoreboard, you're probably like, 'He was [bad],' but I wasn't," Jimenez said. "I felt like I had good control of the fastball even though I hit two guys, but it was two pitches that got away. All of the other pitches were really close, probably at the home plate. The only thing I can control is try to do the best I can to get ready for the season.
"For me, I can't control what people are thinking," he added. "The only thing I can control is doing my job every day and work every day and hopefully take everything down to the game."
Jimenez allowed just two hits but issued two walks, hit two batters, threw a wild pitch that allowed one run to score and was charged with a throwing error.
"He's got a lot of pride," Showalter said. "It was very evident to me that he did a lot of work this offseason. It's probably a little frustrating for him to — first day of spring — not get something. His work days and stuff has been a lot crisper. I have confidence it will play out as we go forward here."
Jimenez started off well, mixing his fastball and slider. He struck out the first two hitters he faced, getting leadoff hitter Rajai Davis with a full-count slider in the dirt and striking out Alex Avila on a 92-mph fastball. Despite a two-out walk to Ian Kinsler, he didn't allow a run or hit in the first inning
"What I was looking for was to command the fastball," Jimenez said. "I know I walked two guys, but all of the pitches were really close, all of them were close.
The only thing I can tell you is I did what I wanted to do, and that was commanding the fastball. I threw a lot of fastballs, I only threw three or four breaking balls, mostly fastballs. I wanted to command the fastball, and I feel good."
Jimenez said he felt his delivery was sound, and his outing might have been different had he not narrowly missed a few spots. Showalter agreed that some of his pitches were close, saying that it's spring training for everybody.
"I don't have to change anything," Jimenez said. "I feel like I felt really good with the fastball, I had good command. Things just got out of control.
"It felt good," he said of his delivery. "I felt really good. I felt like I was a little bit smoother than before. I was in control of my head and that showed in the first inning."
But he unraveled quickly.
After Jimenez hit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos on the left hand with his first pitch of the second inning, his outing quickly snowballed. He walked Tyler Collins and allowed an RBI single to Jordan Lennerton to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Shortstop Andrew Romine dropped a bunt in front of the mound, but Jimenez's throw to first drew first baseman Christian Walker off the bag, loading the bases.
"There was a play I was supposed to make [and I] made an error," Jimenez said.
Two batters later, Davis looped a one-out, two-run single to center field, and Jimenez hit Avila, prompting Showalter out of the dugout with the Orioles training 4-0 with two on and one out.
One batter later, left-hander Chris Jones allowed a three-run homer to Kinsler. Two of those runs were charged to Jimenez.
"He just couldn't get it back in sync a little bit," Showalter said. "It's early, the first time, I'm hoping that he's only going to get better as we go. I thought stuff-wise, he was pretty good. I thought he was probably ahead of where he was last year stuff-wise."