SEATTLE — Through some lean moments in this season's first half, right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez remained confident that he would be able to turn his year around. He'd typically pitched better in the second half, and he felt he was just a few pitches away from getting out of some dicey situations that ultimately led to big innings.
As the Orioles rotation has begun to find its footing, Jiménez has as well. And he will enter Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the Seattle Mariners coming off a season-high 11 strikeouts in his last outing Friday at the Oakland Athletics. Eight of those strikeouts came in the first three innings.
"Yeah, I think that was one of the best games I've had this year talking about stuff," Jiménez said. "The slider was good, the split was good, the fastball was moving. … Everything was working and I think I had command of the fastball. I was able to spot it down and away, throw inside and that set up the other pitches. The slider was pretty good and the split was nasty."
Jiménez left the game with one out in the sixth after he was hit on the right leg on a comebacker off the bat of Chad Pinder. He was already at 99 pitches.
Over his past four starts, Jiménez has built a strong second-half resume. After his ERA sat at 7.19 through his first 20 starts this season, Jiménez has posted a 2.63 ERA over his past four outings. He also has 32 strikeouts, allowed 23 hits and walked just eight over 24 innings during that stretch.
Even though Jiménez isn't the strikeout pitcher he was early in his career, he has averaged 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, his highest total in his four years with the Orioles.
"He has commanded the fastball well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "When you can locate the fastball on both sides of the plate, they have to commit to a location on the fastball so you've got to cheat a little bit in or cheat a little bit away and that opens it up so that anything off-speed doesn't have to be as good as it normally has to be. There's two parts of the fastball: the stuff and the location. If you can't locate, that's why a lot of guys end up in the bullpen."
Jiménez has lowered his season ERA by nearly a run since July 21, allowing three runs his most recent outing in Oakland, a start that would've been even more impressive had he not allowed a two-run homer to first baseman Matt Olson in the fourth.
In that outing, Jimenez used his splitter efficiently — he induced 10 of his 15 swinging strikes on the pitch — by working it off his two-seamer that ran in to left-handed hitters. He had three strikeouts on his two-seamer, four-seamer and splitter.
"In the first half, I wasn't feeling bad at all," Jiménez said. "I felt like I had good stuff, but I wasn't getting results. I would leave one pitch up and they made me pay for it and that was the game or that was the beginning of a terrible inning. But everything had turned. I'm able to make that pitch to get out of the inning. I don't know. Someone might hit the ball hard, but they hit it right at someone. I think it's just, I guess, it's just my time."
Jimenez owns a 5.85 ERA in seven career starts against the Mariners and was blasted for 12 runs over 8 2/3 innings in two starts against Seattle last season.