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Ubaldo Jimenez makes earliest exit in more than three years as his struggles continue

The spiraling season of Ubaldo Jimenez hit a new low Saturday as the struggling right-hander suffered through his shortest start in more than three years, adding pressure on Orioles manager Buck Showalter to bump Jimenez from the starting rotation.

Jimenez lasted just 1 2/3 innings in the Orioles' 11-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, allowing eight of the 14 batters he faced to reach base. The outing was his shortest start since April 16, 2013, when he lasted  1 2/3 innings for the Indians against the Boston Red Sox.

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Jimenez was charged with six runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks.

Jimenez has a 10.26 ERA over his past four starts — three of them Orioles losses — and has failed to make it out of the sixth inning in any of those games. In Jimenez's last three starts, the Orioles lost all three games by a combined score of 31-6.

The Orioles knew Jimenez can go through rough stretches when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million deal, and they saw it firsthand in 2014, a year that saw Jimenez lose his rotation spot late in the season before receiving spot starts in the final weeks. But his current struggles can be considered more frustrating because he's been in a steady decline for nearly a month.

"What do we have to do?" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's something we've gone through some really good times and some really tough times. We know there's some good there. He's healthy and works hard. I see him between starts. He wants to be a consistent contributor so bad and it's just not happening for him right now."

He has gone more than six innings twice in 10 starts this season and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is an unsightly 1.50, the worst of his career.

"Of course I'm disappointed, but like I said before, I never put my head down," Jimenez said. "I always try to find a way to survive and I don't give up. It doesn't matter how ugly how things are. I know I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do to help the team out, but it's a part of the game. I have to find a way to keep fighting and be able to recover and be there for the team."

Jimenez's mechanics are complex and he can quickly find his delivery out of whack. Jimenez said his between-start bullpen sessions have been strong, but he's been unable to take that into his starts this month.

"There's just so much you can do. He's got a lot of moving parts and that's also why he's deceptive when he's going well and guys don't see him well and creates a lot of late action on the ball," Showalter said. "But he's not able to command it right now. You can tell he's worried a lot about it and it takes away some of his concentration on the baserunners, something that's been a challenge for him his whole career. We harp on it a lot and sometimes it's there."

On Saturday, Jimenez battled with his command, consistently falling behind batters. He threw first-pitch balls to eight of the 14 hitters he faced, including each of the first four. He went to three-ball counts on three of the first five batters he faced.

When Jimenez  struggles, he has little margin for error. That was evident in the first inning, when third baseman Pedro Alvarez failed to make the play on Mike Napoli's sharp grounder for an error that allowed the first two runs to score off Jimenez.

Jimenez walked two batters in the first inning and both base runners scored, including one on Yan Gomes' two-out, two-run single that made it 4-0. Gomes' hit came following a double steal by Napoli and Jose Ramirez that put two runners in scoring position and extra pressure on Jimenez.

"It's been a challenge for him," Showalter said. "Sometimes, he's really engaged in it and quick to the plate and sometimes he's not. We harp on it since he's been here and it's been a challenge for him throughout his career. It's tough on the catchers because our guys are really good at it if they get a chance. We did some things that didn't help him, too. We had some throwing errors, but when you're so deep in the counts and 30-some pitches in the first inning, that's got everybody kind of on their heels there."

The Indians were 5-for-5 on stolen-base attempts on Saturday, including four of those coming against Jimenez.

"That's the thing about baseball," Jimenez said. "When things are going bad, everything falls apart, and whatever you do out there it doesn't go your way. But the oldest thing is that things change. I have the faith that things are going to change. I never lose my mind. I know it's tough to not be doing my job, but I always stay positive. I work hard every day and I'm going to find a way to recover and get back on track and hopefully things are going to go my way."

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In the second inning, Jimenez retired the first two batters, then allowed a single to Francisco Lindor. Lindor stole second and scored on a single by Napoli. Jimenez was pulled from the game after giving up a walk to Ramirez in favor of long man Vance Worley, who could be the top internal candidate to take Jimenez's rotation spot. Worley allowed one inherited runner to score.

Removing Jimenez from the rotation isn't simple. He is making $13 million this season and is to earn $13.5 million next season, so it's a costly expense to have him work as a long reliever. Because of his service time, he can't be sent to the minor leagues to work out his struggles without his consent.

The Orioles did remove Jimenez from the rotation in mid-August 2014. He worked in relief twice — focusing on his mechanics in the bullpen — then received two spot starts and one relief appearance in September, but he didn't pitch for the Orioles in the postseason.

Asked if his current struggles compare to those he experienced two years ago, Jimenez said there were several differences.

"I hurt my ankle," Jimenez said, referring to a July stint on the disabled list that occurred after he rolled his ankle in his apartment parking lot. "I went on the DL and when I came back, I only had three games and then I was sent to the bullpen. It's different. But it's all about the mechanics. I have to be able to take whatever I'm doing in the bullpen and take it into the game. And hopefully, everything changes for me because nothing is going my way."

For right now, Showalter and the Orioles are still practicing patience – and hoping that Jimenez can return to form.

"We have seen where Ubaldo can come back and he has the sort of mental fortitude to kind of rebound and in this clubhouse," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "We know how much pride he takes in going out there, so we're going to try and help any way we can and try to get him back where he needs to be. We're confident he'll get there."

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