MINNEAPOLIS — Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez flew here a day early, so he wasn't a part of the Orioles travel party that arrived in Minnesota around 5 a.m. local time after Thursday's doubleheader in Baltimore.
Jimenez did his part to pick up his weary teammates Friday night, delivering the finest outing of his Orioles career as he held the Twins scoreless for 71/3 innings in a 3-0 win before an announced 24,165 at Target Field.
“Just what the doctor ordered,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I'm really proud of them, and it all came off [Jimenez's] outing. You couldn't have drawn it up any better.”
Jimenez allowed three hits and had 10 strikeouts, a season high and the most by an Orioles pitcher this season, while yielding just one walk.
The Orioles (15-12) have won four of their past five games and are three games above .500 for the first time this season.
And with the win, combined with the Yankees' 14-inning loss to Tampa Bay, the Orioles woke up Saturday morning atop in the American League East by a half game.
Jimenez, who signed a club-record four-year, $50 million contract in February, struggled through a frustrating April. He was winless in five starts, battled control problems and pitched to a 6.59 ERA. But as the calendar turned to a new month Friday, he dominated a Twins team against which he's thrived throughout his career
“April was really tough,” Jimenez said. “I really worked hard, and every year I start to get better and better in May. I couldn't wait until we got to May.”
Nelson Cruz hit a tape-measure homer in the sixth inning, a rocket two-run shot into the third deck of the left-field seats.
Cruz, another February free-agent signing, continued to be the Orioles' top offensive weapon. He leads the club in homers (eight) and RBIs (27) and has multiple RBIs in seven of his past 13 games.
As impressive as Jimenez's outing was, it also preserved an Orioles bullpen that pitched a combined nine innings in Thursday's doubleheader sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I was really happy, especially that I needed to be there for the team, given the circumstances with them playing two games yesterday,” said Jimenez, who earned his first win and first quality start with his new team. “I was able to do what I was supposed to do and be able to get deep into the game and help out the team.”
“I have a better read on my mechanics and I was able to locate and command the fastball and use my breaking ball in any count,” Jimenez said. Catcher Matt Wieters “called a great game. Every pitch he called, I threw, and I was able to execute.”
The Twins' biggest threat against Jimenez came in the third, when Minnesota had two on and no outs after Fuld's single and a walk to Escobar. But Jimenez struck out the next three batters he faced to squash the threat.
Those strikeouts began a stretch in which Jimenez retired 16 of 17 Twins.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” said Jimenez, who is 4-3 with a 2.45 ERA in seven career starts against Minnesota. “It made me become a little more comfortable. I was able to get out of the jam [in the third inning] when two runners got on base. Just getting ahead and staying ahead. I made them swing the bat. I was able to be aggressive.”
After Manny Machado opened the sixth inning with a leadoff single, his first hit since coming off the disabled list Thursday, Cruz crushed a 1-1 pitch from Twins starter Ricky Nolasco to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
"I was kind of [saying] to myself: 'I'm glad I got to be there for that,' " Showalter said.
Wieters drove in the first run of the game with a one-out double that hit off the center-field wall, plating Cruz from second. Cruz reached base on a leadoff double that hit off the glove of Jason Kubel in left.
Cruz is hitting .407 (11-for-27) in his past seven games at Target Field, and fans here won't forget the blast he hit Friday night.
Jimenez left the game after Escobar's double in the eighth, giving way to left-hander Zach Britton. Machado kept a shutout intact by making a diving play in the hole at third to rob Brian Dozier of a hit. Britton then struck out Joe Mauer looking to end the inning.
Despite allowing a leadoff double to Trevor Plouffe, Orioles closer Tommy Hunter tossed a scoreless ninth inning for his eighth save in nine opportunities.
After Plouffe's hit, Hunter struck out cleanup hitter Chris Colabello swinging and then Kubel looking before inducing a game-ending groundout from Josmil Pinto to seal the Orioles' second shutout win of the season.
“Everybody contributed,” Cruz said. “The bullpen came in and shut it down. We got the hits when we needed to and played good defense. And it all started with Ubaldo.”