Whether it's a mirage or a meaningful improvement, the Indian summer that Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is tacking onto a season that was declared finished a long time ago continues. Perhaps the greatest marvel of all is how badly the Orioles have come to rely on him.
All you need to know about what his resurgence has meant to this team — and this is in a total on-field sense — is to hear how Wednesday's 5-1, gut-punch loss to the Boston Red Sox was just as big of a blow because of what it did to Jimenez as its effect on the club's playoff chances.
"He did a great job — I think that's what probably makes him tough, losing a game like this," said first baseman Chris Davis, who made a sixth-inning error that erased the 1-0 lead Jimenez left with. "That guy's been battling pretty much the entire season and to see him go out there in a big game and throw the ball like he did, as a defender, as a hitter, you want to try to get him the win."
Jimenez allowed two unearned runs on four hits with eight strikeouts and four walks in 5 1/3 innings to lower his season ERA to 5.71, thanks to a 2.85 ERA in six starts since rejoining the rotation. He didn't dominate like he has at times over the past month, but got the job done.
"I think I survived," Jimenez said. "I don't think I had my best stuff tonight because I was falling behind in the count every time with my breaking balls. But I thought I was able to go out there and just fight, give the team a chance to be close on the scoreboard."
"He pitched well," manager Buck Showalter said. "He was solid."
Jimenez was the hard-luck loser Wednesday after a two-pitch sequence of a two-run error by Davis and a three-run home run by Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi turned a 1-0 Orioles lead into a 5-1 deficit.
When Jimenez starts next will go a long way toward showing whether the team believes what it has seen over the past month is legitimate. The Orioles haven't announced a starter for Sunday yet, but Kevin Gausman would be on regular rest and Dylan Bundy would be on five days' rest.
Whichever of those two pitchers doesn't start Sunday has a good shot of being the starter after Monday's day off, though Jimenez and Tillman will also be fully rested for that start.
All that means the Orioles have a chance, operating under the assumption that only one of Yovani Gallardo or Wade Miley will make a start in the final six games of the season, to have one pitcher make two starts in the final week.
The choices for that would be Bundy, Gausman, Jimenez and Tillman. The latter three probably have a stronger case, but the fact that Jimenez is even in consideration for such a responsibility for a team clinging to its playoff life would have been unfathomable a month ago.