Since Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez returned to the starting rotation, he's had one of his best starts of the season and undoubtedly his worst, the latter of which came Friday night at Tampa Bay.
Jiménez's most recent outing — he allowed nine runs and 11 base runners over 2 1/3 innings in a 15-5 loss to the Rays — was overshadowed by the fact that the Orioles reached a long-held major league pitching futility mark by allowing five or more runs for a 20th consecutive game. Jiménez wants to put that start behind him.
"Definitely I'm going to forget about that one," Jiménez said. "There's nothing I can do because it was one of those games where I didn't have anything. I didn't have my fastball, I didn't have my breaking ball, and they just hit me. There's nothing I can take out of that other than just move on to the next one."
Jiménez fell behind 3-0 four batters into the game after walking the first two men in the lineup. He wouldn't last a third inning, during which Shane Peterson and Derek Norris hit two-run home runs before he was chased from the game down 9-2.
"It's happened before with him," manager Buck Showalter said. "He wasn't carrying much fastball last time out and that was obvious early on. And people might say, 'Well if you saw that, why didn't you get him out of there?' Well, sometimes they find their step. They find another pitch that keeps them in it. If you get a guy out of there every time he has a bad inning, you're going to be making so many moves to your bullpen every day."
Jiménez's struggles came after he held the St. Louis Cardinals to two runs over seven innings in his first start since returning to the rotation and his second quality start in 10 starts this season.
"I can't tell you exactly what to expect," Showalter said of Jiménez. "Until Chris [Tillman] and [Kevin Gausman] and these guys who have been struggling, they put something together as far as consistency, it's kind of hard to know what you're going to get."
In Friday's outing, nine of the 13 balls put in play against Jiménez were hits, and add in four walks — three of which scored — and the number of base runners he put on base was too much to overcome.
Jiménez might be on a shorter leash if there were a clear better option for the rotation, but there's not, especially since right-hander Alec Asher was returned to the bullpen after stumbling in a starting role.
Jiménez said he's not changing his routine heading into Thursday night.
"I'm staying the same way," he said. "I threw my bullpen [session Tuesday], working on the same things, keeping the ball down and working on my sinker and working on my breaking ball, something I do in every bullpen."
There is no blueprint for which Jiménez you will see Thursday night in Toronto, but he's struggled in most of his starts this season. Take away his outing two starts ago — his first one since being reinserted into the rotation — when he held the Cardinals to two runs over seven innings June 18 at Camden Yards and his only other quality start (7 2/3 shutout innings in Cincinnati on April 19), and Jiménez owns an even 9.00 ERA over his remaining 13 outings, which include eight starts and five relief appearances.
That leaves the Orioles looking for anything to try to figure out how to get the best of Jiménez. Thanks to Monday's day off, Jimenez will be pitching on five days rest Thursday, and he's performed well in those situations, posting a 3.68 ERA in two starts spanning 14 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .180 batting average. Compare that with his 15.06 ERA and .395 opponents' batting average in five starts on regular rest and a 5.29 ERA on six or more days' rest.
Jiménez is 7-5 with a 4.48 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Blue Jays, but he's struggled against them recently. He hasn't faced them this season, but his 6.43 ERA against Toronto in five outings (four starts) last season was his highest against a division opponent. (He didn't pitch against the New York Yankees last season).
Which Jiménez shows up Thursday will remain a mystery, but with the Orioles rotation unable to get through six innings in 16 of their past 18 games leading up to Thursday, the club is in desperate need of a deep start from Jiménez.