July 26, 2017 - The Orioles lose to the Rays, 5-1. (Denise Sanders, Baltimore Sun video)
Ubaldo Jiménez certainly deserved a better fate than the one he received Wednesday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays. He allowed just five base runners over six innings, harnessing his command while working all areas of the strike zone and fanning a season-high nine batters.
The Orioles needed such an outing from Jiménez, who has struggled mightily since returning to the starting rotation, especially with the club on the fringes of the playoff race with the nonwaiver trade deadline approaching.
But one pitch burned Jiménez in the Orioles' 5-1 loss at Tropicana Field. He had used his two-seam sinking fastball effectively, particularly down in the zone early, getting seven called strikes from it, including four of his nine strikeouts, but the sinker he threw third baseman Evan Longoria was low and inside, right in Longoria's power zone.
"Like I told you after my last game, I know the results 't there, but I felt good physically," said. "I know my fastball was there. I was throwing strikes. It was just a matter of getting the ball down in the zone and having a better result like today, but I think hopefully I can go from there.
The Orioles (48-53) scored just one run, on Jonathan Schoop's homer in the fourth inning against right-hander Alex Cobb, who held them to four hits over seven innings.
Jiménez did his part. After putting two of the first three batters he faced on base to open the game, he received a 5-4-3 double play to get out of the inning, the first of 12 straight batters he retired.
"He threw the ball great," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Just one pitch I know he wants back. He threw the ball great, man. It was fun to be behind him today."
Over one stretch from the second through fifth innings, Jiménez recorded strikeouts for seven of 10 outs, mixing his two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, splitter, slider and curveball efficiently against a free-swinging batting order. Over his first five innings, Jiménez threw 12 of 17 first-pitch strikes.
"Getting ahead and staying ahead," Jiménez said. "I was able to throw all of my breaking balls behind in the count or the first pitch. So I had a good command of all of my pitches today."
Jiménez's performance came after he allowed six runs over 5 1/3 innings against the Houston Astros in his most recent start, an outing in which he felt strong physically and was throwing strikes but allowed 10 hits.
"Ubaldo, we've seen him really good and we've seen him where we've had good at-bats," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Today he was really good. He located the fastball [today] as good as I've seen him."
He issued a one-out walk to Mallex Smith in the sixth that ended his retired-batter streak, and seemed preoccupied with Smith's ability to steal — 14 of 18 potential base stealers have been successful against Jiménez — throwing to first three times in the following at-bat. Despite that, he struck out Corey Dickerson before Longoria came to the plate.
Jiménez threw three straight two-seamers to Longoria, the first two on the outer half before hooking one inside that Longoria turned on for his 38th career homer against the Orioles, which is the most of any active player.
Cash believed Smith created some chaos after drawing the walk, forcing Jiménez to throw fastballs so Smith wouldn't steal and get into scoring position in a one-run game.
"Longo comes up with the huge hit, with the home run," Cash said. "I think Mallex, too, deserves some credit. That's what speed can do when you are on first base and it kind of takes Ubaldo out of his game plan of mixing, mixing, mixing. He threw Dickerson a bunch of fastballs. … He had to throw Longo fastballs because he's concerned about Mallex potentially running."
Schoop alone on offense
Schoop's 22nd homer of the season in the fourth inning was the Orioles' only offense against Cobb.
The second baseman drove a 3-1 splitter an estimated 440 feet over the center-field fence.
Chris Davis then drew a walk, but Cobb went on to retire the final nine of 11 hitters he faced. The only other Orioles runner in scoring position was Seth Smith,who hit one of his two doubles on the day off Cobb with one out in the fifth.
Any appearance by closer Zach Britton — who is on the trading block — could be his last for the Orioles.
Trailing 3-1, Britton allowed singles to three of the first four hitters he faced in the eighth inning, including Logan Morrison's RBI hit through the right side. Britton then induced a comebacker and threw to second, but could only get the front end of a double-play attempt, enabling another run to score.