Ubaldo Jimenez’s smiling face said it all – so did the words on his T-shirt: Vuela Alto.
Translated from Spanish, it means “Fly High.”
And that’s what Jimenez, the most beleaguered of all Orioles, was doing Tuesday, soaring after his second straight quality start against a second-straight division leader.
On Tuesday, he allowed three earned runs – including two on a home run by Michael Saunders – to help the Orioles eventually beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-3.
He’s now allowed just four runs in 12 2/3 innings (2.84 ERA) since he was moved back into the rotation to sub for injured ace Chris Tillman.
“It feels really good. It’s something I wanted to do since the beginning of the year. I wasn’t able to, but I never give up,” said Jimenez, who lowered his season ERA to 6.46. “I always figure out a way to get up and be there for the team, and I’ve been able to be there for (Tillman) the last two games. Hopefully, it keeps going.”
That’s the whole key here. Jimenez needs to be consistently good, something he has struggled with most of his career. The talent is definitely there – it’s what landed him the four-year, $50 million contract that has been a point of criticism since he signed it in 2014.
Fans have long memories, and Jimenez is never going to be forgiven by some for not living up to that deal – the most lucrative for a free-agent pitcher in Orioles’ history.
But, boy, if he can pitch the rest of the season like he has the last two games, it would go a long way to re-writing his legacy here. That, of course, is a monumental if.
“He’s had two good outings in a row in a time of need. Real proud of him,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He was solid. You can say a lot of different things about things that happened in the game, but none of it means anything if we don’t get that type of start from him.”
The key, as always for Jimenez is that he threw strikes, walking just two batters. And he maintained his mechanics. He wasn’t dominating, but he didn’t have to be. He did plenty – and would have earned the victory had he not left a mistake pitch up to Saunders in the seventh that tied the game and forced Jimenez to the showers.
He walked off to a nice ovation from the crowd – something we haven’t seen often during his career here.
“He’s had some good stretches for us and we are hoping this is one of those,” Showalter said. “We are going to need it. He’s a great teammate, everybody pulls for him.”
One thing that shouldn’t be lost about Jimenez’s recent success is that he has now faced two powerful offenses in the Washington Nationals and Blue Jays, and was pitted against two Cy Young contenders in Max Scherzer and J.A. Happ. And he held his own in both.
“It’s really impressive, going from not throwing very much at all to be able to have two quality starts against two of the better-hitting lineups in baseball. It shows you that he comes with a professional attitude, even when he hasn’t been pitching, which is great,” said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, whose two-run homer in the eighth gave the Orioles the win and pushed them to three games behind the Blue Jays (and one behind the Red Sox) in the East.
“I know his year probably hasn’t gone how he wanted it to go, but to be able to stay mentally focused to give us a good outing when we needed it is huge.”
In one month, Jimenez has gone from forgotten man in the bullpen to someone who is facing multiple aces in a pennant race. Hard for Orioles’ fans to imagine – but this is what Jimenez said he has been praying for.
“I have a lot of faith. I believe in God and I have a lot of faith that it doesn’t matter what you think, there’s a plan that you might not see, but it’s going to come your way,” Jimenez said. “You have to be prepared for everything. You have to never give up. You have to find a way to get up and find a way to compete.
“And I think that’s what my faith allows me to do, never give up.”