Perhaps the biggest difference between Ubaldo Jimenez this season and last season has been his improved command. His walks are fewer and farther between, and when he's issued them, he has managed to work around them.
Jimenez recorded arguably his most dominating outing of the season on Sunday afternoon, throwing eight scoreless innings and allowing just four hits in Game 1 of the team's doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians, propelling the Orioles to a 4-0 win.
The Orioles – who have won six in their past seven games and 17 of their past 22 -- are a season-high six games over .500 (40-34). It was the franchise's 5,000th win since it moved to Baltimore in 1954.
Jimenez's deep start was just what the Orioles needed to begin Sunday's split doubleheader, allowing manager Buck Showalter to save his bullpen for the second game, which will begin at 7:05 p.m.
With the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees losing Sunday, the Orioles would be tied with Tampa Bay for first place in the American League East if they win Game 2.
"There are two real hard games to win in the season -- the first game of a doubleheader and then the second one when you've lost the first one," Showalter said. "Nobody likes playing doubleheaders. A lot of people, if they were honest, would tell you when they got out of bed they'd take a split and move on, but I'm not going to go there. We've got a chance now to roll the dice in the second one. But we've got some unknown with their starting pitcher. We've got some work to do still."
In his 15th start this year, Jimenez recorded seven strikeouts and issued zero walks against his former team. It was his third start this season in which he did not walk a batter. He didn't record a start without a walk in 22 appearances last season
After Jimenez induced a ground out from Jason Kipnis to end the eighth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the announced sellout crowd of 45,675 at Camden Yards.
"I got goosebumps standing there because he's been pitching well and I know all the hard work he's put into it," said third baseman Manny Machado, who hit his 15th home run in the sixth inning, setting a new career high. "And he knows what he's done in the past, and how he didn't do so well last year. This year, he has a mindset of 'I want to show everybody who I am.' He's doing it. He's showing who the real Ubaldo is. He's throwing strikes. He's pitching well, and that's what we need from him."
Jimenez (7-3), who won his fourth straight start, retired the final seven batters he faced and 19 of his last 21. His eight innings were a season high and he recorded his second outing of the season in which he pitched at least seven innings and did not allow an earned run.
"[It's] the command of the fastball," Jimenez said. "That's the number one thing for every starter. Especially for me, throughout my career it's been difficult to have good mechanics and command the fastball. I've had to deal with a lot of walks, a lot of command issues. That's the thing I'm really proud of."
Orioles designated hitter Jimmy Paredes hit a two-run home run, doubled, reached base three times and scored two runs, continuing his resurgence from a 2-for-32 slump that saw his batting average dip 55 points.
Over his past 11 games, Paredes is 19-for-41, hitting .463 with three doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs.
Paredes gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the third, crushing a first-pitch delivery from Indians starter Trevor Bauer deep into the center field bleachers for his ninth homer of the season.
Machado hit a solo blast to lead off the sixth inning, sending a 1-2 pitch just over the left-field fence for his seventh homer in the month of June.
After Machado's homer, Paredes followed with a double, then moved to third on a wild pitch. He scored two batters later on Chris Davis' RBI double into the left-center field gap, giving the Orioles a 4-0 lead.
When Jimenez faced the Indians earlier this month, he walked six batters and lasted just five innings, but remarkably allowed just one run.
In his four starts since – all wins – Jimenez has recorded a total of 29 strikeouts and just five walks spanning 24 2/3 innings.
"He's not ever going to take anything for granted," Showalter said. "…He's been going at it since the last pitch he threw last year, really. We felt like it was there. We'll see what the season takes. I feel great for him. He's getting a return for what he ... he was a welcome addition. Once again, he pitched some good games for us last year in big spots."