Wednesday night is exactly why the Orioles keep giving Ubaldo Jimenez the ball every fifth day.
And it’s also exactly why he frustrates so many Orioles’ fans. The inconsistency is maddening. I get it.
But Jimenez’s performance Wednesday at Great American Ball Park – 7 2/3 shutout innings, two hits, four walks, three strikeouts – again shows how good he can be when his command is on.
He attacked the strike zone – at least for Jimenez (108 pitches, 62 strikes) – and allowed the defense to do its job behind him.
His sinker was working, his breaking pitches were working, and he ended up with 13 groundouts. That’s outstanding.
And then, when he went to a four-seam fastball out of the zone, it worked, too. He threw a 91-mph fastball at eye level to Scooter Gennett in the eighth inning and the pinch-hitter swung through it like it was 98.
That’s what happens when Jimenez commands his other pitches.
What was most important, to me anyway, is that Jimenez never allowed a leadoff hitter to get on base in all eight of his innings. That’s essential for the success of any pitcher. But particularly for Jimenez, with his control issues and his difficulty keeping runners from stealing. Hey, Jimenez even got a single Wednesday, so it was a banner evening for him.
It also was one start. I won’t get carried away. He still has had two stinkers and one gem in 2017. But this is exactly why I think this guy can have a good year. Those kinds of performances are in him.
We just need to see it a lot more often.
The Norfolk shuttle revs up
Before Wednesday’s game, the Orioles sent right-handed reliever Tyler Wilson to Triple-A Norfolk and recalled lefty Jayson Aquino.
It was an anticipated move. The Orioles wanted a lefty to backup Jimenez – in retrospect, they didn’t need one – and both of their long relievers, Wilson and Vidal Nuno, pitched Tuesday and weren’t available Wednesday.
But this goes beyond one matchup. The Orioles purposely have filled their Triple-A rotation and bullpen with pitchers who have minor league options remaining. And they did the same with a couple spots in their big league bullpen (and with the fifth starter spot until Chris Tillman returns).
So, this going to be a season-long thing – maybe even more so than in the past few years, when it became commonplace.
Remember, one minor league option is used per year. So, Wilson, for instance, can be sent down and be brought up continually and only use one option.
The only catch is that if a player is sent to the minors, he must remain there for 10 days unless he is recalled to replace an injured player (that’s why Stefan Crichton returned Sunday after being sent down Saturday to make room for Alec Asher).
But the Orioles have so many options with options that the 10-day rule may not prove to be a hindrance in 2017.
The Orioles so believe in the philosophy that it’s a primary reason serviceable reliever Oliver Drake was designated for assignment and then traded to Milwaukee last week. Drake can get big league hitters out, but didn’t have any options remaining, and so he couldn’t be part of the Norfolk shuttle.
By the way, expect the shuttle’s primary rider to be Wilson. He’s fearless, he doesn’t complain and he’ll do whatever it takes to be in the big leagues. And that likely will mean 10-day stints in Norfolk.
Clean save for Brach
Orioles manager Buck Showalter doesn’t like to show his hand, but I think we all expect Brad Brach to be the primary closer with Zach Britton injured.
Brach got the first save chance Wednesday and retired the Reds in order.
He’s got the best stuff, was a minor league closer and has the right mentality for the job. He’d be the regular closer on a bunch of teams right now.
As good as Darren O’Day has been in his career, Brach should be the man now until Britton comes back (a MRI Friday on Britton’s left forearm should provide more clarity on his return).
Here’s the one thing about Brach in the closer’s role now. He and Britton are free agents in the same year (after the 2018 season), so it’s not like he is the closer-in-waiting and this is an audition for when Britton leaves. Unless, of course, the Orioles re-sign Brach within the next two seasons.
Thursday’s rubber game in Cincinnati is key, simply because it would mean winning another series in April. The Orioles would be 4-0-1 in series with three more looming – all against AL East teams — this month. … Now, I don’t want to kill the good feelings about this road trip, but these Orioles have struck out 26 times in the first two games in Cincinnati. That’s acceptable, I suppose, if you’re scoring five or six runs in each contest. But you’re playing with fire if you score five runs in two games and strikeout that much. … After Jimenez’s great outing, he was pied in the face by Adam Jones during the postgame MASN interview. The pie-ing went away last year, but looks to be back. I really have no comment on this. I couldn’t care one way or the other, but I know many of you have strong opinions about it, so there you go. It’s back – at least it was Wednesday.