August 16, 2017 - The Orioles return from a West Coast road trip three games under .500 after losing to the Mariners, 7-6. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
The key to Ubaldo Jiménez's second-half turnaround had been his ability to harness his command, but on Wednesday afternoon the Orioles right-hander's control escaped him in an untimely manner in the team's 7-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Jiménez lasted just 4 1/3 innings and the team's ninth-inning comeback fell just short.
The Orioles returned from the West Coast with a disappointing 4-6 record on their 10-day, 10-game trip to Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle, dropping two of three on their last stop in the Pacific Northwest.
They are now 59-62, back at three games under .500 for the first time since Aug. 4.
Jiménez, who had a 2.63 ERA over his previous four starts, couldn't hold two early leads and was chased from the game in a three-run fifth inning.
His outing marked the second straight game that an Orioles starting pitcher failed to get through five innings. Left-hander Wade Miley lasted just 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Mariners (61-61).
Jiménez was carrying some of his best stuff of the season Friday in Oakland, finishing with a season-high 11 strikeouts, but he struggled with his command in the middle innings Wednesday.
"His breaking ball was elevated a lot today," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It wasn't like they hit a lot of balls hard off him. ... Probably deserved a better fate. He's been pitching so well for us. … We had some opportunities. Ubaldo's been pitching so well for us. Today was a little bit of a struggle."
With the game tied at 1, Jiménez opened the fourth by hitting Nelson Cruz with a full-count pitch, then left a full-count sinker over the plate to Yonder Alonso that the recently acquired All-Star first baseman sent deep into the right-field stands for his 23rd homer of the season. That gave the Mariners a 3-1 lead
The Orioles rebounded with three runs in the top of the fifth, but Jiménez gave them all back in the bottom of the inning as five of the first six batters that frame reached base on four singles and a hit batter. Both of Jiménez's hit batters scored.
After allowing a leadoff single to Jean Segura to open the fifth, Jimenez hit Guillermo Heredia with a full-count sinker that tailed in. Robinson Canó then singled home Segura and two batters later, Alonso drove in another run on a seeing-eye single that had a hit probability of just 8 percent. Former Oriole Danny Valencia followed with another RBI single, chasing Jiménez from the game.
"Especially in the last inning," Jiménez said when asked how the hit batters hurt him. "I had him with two strikes and we were trying to go inside and the sinker just kept going. Of course it changes everything because then I have to face Canówith two runners on base instead of one out or maybe getting a double play before facing Canó. It changes everything."
Said Showalter: "Take those two hit-by-pitches away and it's a different look."
Jiménez was charged with six runs on 11 base runners (eight hits, one walk and two hit batters), his worst outing since allowing six runs in each of his first two starts out of the break, on July 16 against the Chicago Cubs and July 21 against the Houston Astros.
"You know, you get the home run from Alonso, the other hits were just kind of bloopies," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "You've got to find a way to somehow make a play or something when those kind of innings are happening. Sometimes a good defensive play can really shift the momentum there. It's one thing if they're just rockets being hit all over the place. He was doing pretty good early on, and just that one inning kind of got to him."
Left-hander Richard Bleier, who induced a much-needed 5-4-3 double-play ball to get out of the fifth, yielded a solo homer to Leonys Martin to start the Mariners sixth.
Showalter said he stuck with Jiménez longer because he didn't want to bring in the left-handed Bleier to face Valencia, who mashes lefties.
"You're also doing Valencia a heck of a favor to bring in a left-hander," Showalter said. "I thought the home run to [Martin] hurt us. Richard's been pitching so well for us; that's a guy he usually gets out. But some of it is how hard are they hitting him and all that type of stuff, but some of it's also the matchups it creates behind it."
The Orioles put the tying run on third base with two outs in the ninth, thanks to Mariners closer Edwin Díaz, who walked three batters and hit two in the inning.
Díaz walked the first three batters he faced in the ninth, but Martin made a sliding catch on Manny Machado's drive into right-center field to save at least a run, holding Machado to a sacrifice fly on the play.
But Díaz then hit Trey Mancini on the forearm to load the bases again and plunked Mark Trumbo on the hand to score another run, pulling the Orioles within 7-6.
That momentum quickly ended when left-hander Marc Rzepczynski struck out Chris Davis on three pitches with the bases loaded, getting him to swing through two sinkers on the inside half of the plate before Davis watched a third over the middle of the plate to end the game.
Beckham still scalding
Shortstop Tim Beckham continued his torrid start with his new team, driving in two runs while coming up with his 11th multihit effort in 16 games with the Orioles.
Beckham opened the game with his second leadoff homer in three games, blasting an 0-1 fastball from Marco Gonzales over the right-center-field fence.
He also gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead in the fifth with an RBI single down the third base line with Valencia playing well off the line.
Beckham is now hitting .485 (32-for-66) with five homers and 12 RBIs with the Orioles.
Before Beckham's fifth-inning single gave the Orioles the lead, the bottom of the lineup provided a spark. The bottom three hitters in the Orioles batting order each had a hit, capped by No. 9 hitter Craig Gentry's RBI triple into the right-center gap.
Mancini makes big plays on defense
Before the game, Showalter praised Mancini's grasp of left field — a position the rookie is playing for the first time this year. And then Mancini made a pair of tremendous defensive plays once the game began.
In the second inning, Mancini chased Alonso's tailing line drive down the line and made a sliding catch just before reaching the warning track.
He also saved a run in the seventh inning, making a diving catch on Ben Gamel's sinking liner in the left-center-field gap with two outs and Cruz on third base.
Britton, Tillman get work
Closer Zach Britton, who had pitched just 1 1/3 innings over the previous 10 days, tossed a scoreless eighth inning in relief Wednesday, allowing two singles and a walk.
It was Britton's first full-inning outing since Aug. 5. He's had just two save opportunities this month.
Right-hander Chris Tillman made his second relief appearance since moving to the bullpen, allowing singles to each of the first two batters he faced, but still tossing a scoreless seventh inning.
After yielding singles to Cruz and Alonso to open the inning, Tillman induced a 6-4-3 double-play ball off the bat of Valencia, and Mancini then made the diving play on Gamel's drive into the gap to end the inning.