After becoming the first Orioles pitcher to make it into the fifth inning this spring, embattled right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez said Wednesday he is "pretty close" to being ready to begin the season.
His manager isn't committing to Jimenez in the rotation yet, but Buck Showalter said he is encouraged by the steps the 31-year-old right-hander has taken in 2015.
"Each time out he's been a little better," Showalter said. "We'll see how the next one is. We started him early this year to make sure he got as many starts as he could. He's ready to go six [innings]."
Battling the southwest Florida humidity Wednesday, Jimenez entered the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins' split squad having allowed just two hits and one run while throwing an efficient 60 pitches. He didn't record an out in the fifth, however, giving up two bloops and an infield single — for a second run — before being pulled. He was charged with two runs on five hits while striking out four batters.
He considered it his best outing of the spring, topping his previous appearance in which he allowed three runs in four innings against the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I feel really good, probably like the last one. This one, I have my breaking balls, too," said Jimenez, who has now allowed 11 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings this spring (8.74 ERA). "The last one, I only had my fastball command. In this one, everything was working."
Perhaps most important, Jimenez threw all his pitches for strikes and only walked one batter. He now has walked two in his past eight innings — an important step for a pitcher who issued 77 free passes in 125 1/3 innings last season.
"I felt good about what I did out there. I was able to have good command of the fastball and the breaking ball," Jimenez said. "My slider was good. My split was good, too."
Signed before the 2014 season to a four-year, $50 million deal, Jimenez is among six Orioles battling for five rotation spots. He's the most experienced and accomplished, but his 4.81 ERA last year was by far the highest of the group.
At this point Showalter isn't showing his hand on what he'll do with his rotation. He wants the competition to continue.
"I'm not really going to get into any part of that with any of our starting pitchers, whether it be where they're pitching or what spot," Showalter said. "We don't have to get ahead of ourselves with that yet. I just hope that everyone continues to stay healthy and continues to pitch like they are for the most part so that we have one of those tough decisions. I'm just not getting into that subject matter right now because I don't have to."