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Ubaldo Jimenez pitches five scoreless innings in 9-2 win over Pirates

Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez said he learned last season how walks can damage not only his morale, but that of his teammates.

For most of last season, Jimenez led the American League in walks. He often labored through his starts as he battled control through a frustrating season in which he lost his rotation spot.

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As Jimenez attempts to rebound this spring, regaining that spot is not a given. The Orioles have six starters competing for five spots, but Jimenez — who is in the second year of a club-record four-year, $50million contract — made his best case yet in Tuesday's 9-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Jimenez pitched five shutout innings against the Pirates and allowed just four hits, easily his best outing this spring. Perhaps most importantly, he did not issue a walk.

"It feels like you're controlling the game instead of letting the game control you, because every time you start walking people it's frustrating," Jimenez said. "Not only for me, but for everyone, even the guys, the teammates on the field, are probably going to get tired of you throwing balls."

Even though it was just one start, manager Buck Showalter said he was encouraged.

"When you have so many hitter-friendly environments [in spring training], there's nothing ever bad about having good command and working ahead in the count," Showalter said.

Jimenez — who threw 67 pitches, 49 for strikes, before going to the bullpen to reach his prescribed 85 to 90 pitches — worked ahead of hitters often, running 0-2 counts to three of the first four he faced. After going 6-9 with a 4.81ERA last season and entering Tuesday with an 8.74 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts, he struck out three and allowed only one base runner to reach second.

"Yeah, of course it feels good," Jimenez said. "You can't be lying and say it doesn't feel good. It feels really good because it makes you comfortable and more confident for your next outing. ... I've been able to do what I'm supposed to do in the last two games, and that's command the fastball. I'm ahead in the count, and I stay ahead. That's what I did today."

Over his past three starts, Jimenez has walked just one batter in 13 innings. Last year, he averaged 5.5 per nine innings. He issued five walks in his first two spring outings over 32/3 innings.

Despite allowing four hits, Jimenez faced just two batters over the minimum in his five innings, thanks in part to catcher Ryan Lavarnway throwing out two runners attempting to steal second base.

After Gregory Polanco singled two batters into the game, Lavarnway threw him out trying to steal. Lavarnway also erased Jordy Mercer's leadoff single in the third inning by throwing him out at second.

"I was impressed with his times to the plate," Showalter said. "[Jimenez] gave Lavarnway a chance to throw two guys out. In the past, that wouldn't have probably been able to happen. He's always been athletic. Made a couple of good fielding plays off the mound. You could tell he felt good about himself today."

Three of Jimenez's final five outs came by strikeout, including a swinging strikeout of 2013 National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen, on a full-count slider in the fourth inning.

"He's one of the greatest hitters in the game right now," Jimenez said. "I think I made good pitches. He probably wasn't expecting that pitch [on] 3-2. We're in spring training. He battled. It was one of those things that one time it goes your way, one time it doesn't."

Jimenez also struck out Starling Marte in the fourth inning and ended his outing by blowing a 91-mph fastball past Jung Ho Kang.

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"Today, I felt really good," Jimenez said. "I was staying ahead. I could throw my two-seam fastball away or inside in any count. ... When I'm on the mound right now, I don't even think of the mechanics or anything. I'm just trying to get people out, and everything is getting a little bit easier right now because of the mechanics. Everything is where it's supposed to be."

Showalter said he's far from picking his rotation, but is pleased that all six candidates have made it a difficult decision.

"We've got a lot of time left, and we'll use it all," Showalter said. "I'm real happy we are where we are. We've got six guys pitching well, and I'm happy where all six are."

Other notes from 9-2 win

Steve Pearce hit his team-high fifth home run of the spring with a blast over the left field fence off Jared Hughes. Jimmy Paredes then just missed a homer with a double off the bottom of the left-center wall. Four of the next five Orioles hitters singled to take a 5-0 lead.

Paul Janish, playing in his third game after missing a month following elbow surgery, also drove in two runs on a one-out single in the sixth.

The Pirates plated two runs in the sixth inning off closer Zach Britton, the first runs he's allowed in six Grapefruit League innings this spring. The Pirates hit seven consecutive ground balls against Britton and four of the five hits off the sinkerballer didn't leave the infield.

Caleb Joseph hit sacrifice fly in the seventh inning and Chris Parmelee drew a bases-loaded walk, his team-high seventh walk of the spring, later that inning to give the Orioles a 9-2 lead.

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