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A key day for three pitchers in effort to fix Orioles rotation

A key day for three pitchers in effort to fix Orioles rotation
Ubaldo Jimenez walks off the field and is replaced by pitcher Mychal Givens. The Baltimore Orioles take on the Boston Red Sox Thursday, June 2, 2016. Caitlin Faw/Baltimore Sun staff (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

For a team whose fortunes appear to rest on how the rotation performs, having three pitchers' respective seasons hinge on a single day seems like a dangerous way to do business.
 
Yet there the Orioles were on June 2, a date that for the ensuing four months could be a fulcrum in the seasons of starters Mike Wright, Yovani Gallardo, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
 
Wright was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk before Thursday's game with the Boston Red Sox. Gallardo made his first start in his rehabilitation from shoulder soreness in High-A Frederick. And in the main event, Jimenez tried to rebound from a May that eroded almost all of the confidence in his being a viable starting pitcher.
 
To executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, there was a theme to what could be a pivotal day.
 
"It's all about stabilizing your team. And to stabilize your team, we need consistent starting pitching," Duquette said. "Gallardo and Jimenez have done that over their career. Mike Wright has shown flashes. That's what he's trying to do, show he can be a consistent, dependable pitcher. Ubaldo's trying to show that he can be a consistent pitcher again."
 
For five innings Thursday, it looked like the aspect of this day that had the greatest immediate impact was going the Orioles' way.
 
So many of the traits that dragged Jimenez to a 6.36 ERA, four straight disappointing starts in May and the brink of losing his job were absent: the poor pace, the lack of command in the strike zone, the walks. He found a rhythm early, stayed in it, and until the sixth inning kept Boston off-balance.
 
Jimenez didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, and issued one walk to that point.
 
In the sixth, however, Boston erased a 4-0 Orioles lead with a two-run double by shortstop Xander Bogaerts and a three-run homer by designated hitter David Ortiz. He allowed five runs on six hits and a pair of walks, his ERA climbing to 6.59 on the season. Only two of the 105 pitchers who qualify for the ERA title are worse this year.

"Statistics tell you that's it all the end game, but we've seen him when he's really good and dotting the outer half and spinning the ball," Showalter said. "He had a good split tonight, too, early on. … Ubaldo gave us five strong innings, and then it got away from us, and our guys figured out a way to win the ballgame. I know that's a topic of discussion, I understand from what you all tell me, and rightfully so."

Said Jimenez: "Especially after everything I've been through in the last five games, it felt good to be out there and doing what I did in the first five innings. That's baseball. I had a tough inning. That's not going to erase how I felt in the first five innings."

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Because he began the night so well, and because of Wright's demotion, the talk of Jimenez' rotation spot being in jeopardy will likely slow. As Jimenez' slow May took the attention, Wright fell out of favor quietly.
 
His 2 2/3 innings of seven-hit, six-run ball with four home runs allowed on Wednesday was all the Orioles needed to see. Wright retreats back to Norfolk with a 2-3 record and a 5.88 ERA in the majors.
 
Both Showalter and Duquette believe Wright will be back in the rotation this season, and they hope this assignment allows him time to regroup and refine outside the pressures of what promises to be a tight divisional race in the majors and a staff that's under growing scrutiny.
 
"He's in the process of becoming a good pitcher for us," Showalter said. "Mike's a starter. Mike's going to be a good starter for the Baltimore Orioles. That's what I feel. Today is part of the process. A lot of guys come up and they get a little better, and I'm hoping the next time Mike comes up, we won't need this move to be made. He'll contribute to our club this year as a starter. I really believe that."
 
On Wednesday night, Showalter said Wright's command, and the Red Sox's ability to punish those pitches he didn't locate, was the crux of his struggles.
 
"There's maybe 10 times in a game, maybe less, where you throw a pitch and we all say it: 'If you can throw that pitch every time, you never have to throw another pitch,'" Showalter said Thursday. "Hard sink, down-and-away, strike. But what are your misses like? You may throw 10 of those a game, but your misses aren't too good."
 
Said Duquette: "It's all about making consistently good pitches. The pitches are what get the hitters out, and if you can string a number of those together, you can get the hitters out consistently. Mike needs to find what that key is. I'm sure he will."
 
He'll start Monday for Norfolk, and it's unclear who will start for the Orioles in his place. T.J.McFarland and Vance Worley are candidates to make a spot start. A list of possible additions from Norfolk or Double-A Bowie comprises uninspiring or unproven alternatives.
 
Showalter said the day's happenings in Frederick would have some impact on how the Orioles go forward in their rotation. Gallardo was pleased despite allowing three runs on seven hits and a pair of walks in three innings, and Showalter said most of the hits could have been turned to outs in front of a major league defense.
 
So on a night when one major league starter allowed five runs in the blink of an eye, a second allowed nine base runners in three rehab innings, and a third was demoted to Triple-A, each ended up spun positively by day's end. That's viable to happen when your team hits seven home runs and wins, 12-7.
 
"If we would have lost the game," Jimenez said, "it wouldn't be easy."

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