Orioles manager Buck Showalter jokingly asked Ubaldo Jimenez after his last outing if he had switched uniforms because he wasn't the same guy Showalter had grown accustomed to watching every fifth day before the All-Star break.
Jimenez had allowed seven runs in each of his first two starts since the break and hadn't gotten through five innings after posting a 2.81 ERA in the unofficial first half of the season. And after a first inning that saw him serve up a two-run blast and load the bases with two outs, it didn't look promising that first-half Ubaldo was back.
But six innings later, when Jimenez walked off the mound for the final time Tuesday night, Showalter said he shook his pitcher's hand and told him "he was in the right uniform tonight."
Jimenez rebounded from the two-run first that saw eight batters come to the plate to hold the Atlanta Braves without a hit over his final six innings in the Orioles' 7-3 win. After issuing a leadoff walk to Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons in the second inning, he retired 18 of the final 20 batters he faced.
"He actually got a little better as the game went on," Showalter said. "He started to get a feel for starting the fastball a little bit off the plate and taking it to a corner instead of the middle."
Jimenez seemed to cement himself as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher with his first-half performance, but after getting shelled in two straight outings, questions started to brew about whether his production would taper off. And with the nonwaiver trade deadline looming, it could've sparked doubts about whether the current Orioles rotation was strong enough to contend.
But Jimenez's ability to settle down indicated such doubts were premature.
Sure, his ERA sits nearly a run higher than it did three weeks ago, but Jimenez showed he can still be the guy he was in the first half. And if the Orioles are buyers rather than sellers at the deadline, more innings like his final six will be a must for them to snag a playoff spot.
"It's no time to give up," Jimenez said. "We still have two more months to go."
Showalter said Jimenez is in a good place mentally. Orioles fans might have wondered before the season if Showalter would ever utter those words when Jimenez posted a 4.81 ERA in the first season of a four-year, $50 million deal with the club.
Jimenez found a groove in the first half of 2015, though, and he seemed to get back to that again after the first inning Tuesday.
"His teammates pull for him because he doesn't make excuses," Showalter said. "He realizes the responsibility that comes with the commitment we made to him. We're getting a good return from it this year."