After a seemingly endless string of poor outings from their starting pitchers, the Orioles got a much-needed shot in the arm Sunday from … Ubaldo Jimenez.
Just what everyone expected, right?
Jimenez’s return to the Orioles’ rotation was a rousing success, as he delivered a seven-inning, two-run gem against the St. Louis Cardinals to lead his club to a series victory. He was the first Orioles’ hurler to deliver a quality start since Dylan Bundy on June 9, and the first to work seven innings since Wade Miley on June 1.
When Jimenez left the mound after the seventh, he received a standing ovation from the Camden Yards crowd of 34,854 — a welcome change from the often critical reception he’s received from fans after his previous failures.
“It felt good, especially [because] today is Father’s Day, so it was a good day,” Jimenez said. “I understand it’s part of the game. When things are not going the way you want it to go, of course you won’t have a lot of people rooting for you. But it’s part of the game.”
Jimenez held the Cardinals to four hits, and might’ve had a scoreless outing if not for Stephen Piscotty, who tagged him for a pair of solo home runs. Jimenez kept his composure on a balmy 88-degree Baltimore afternoon.
“He was good,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I can’t tell you how few pitchers in baseball would’ve pitched seven innings in that type of weather, heat. That was pretty remarkable. … He never gave in. He knew what we needed, and he delivered it.”
“It was a really tough day to pitch,” Jimenez said. “It was hot out there. Everything was carrying. If you leave something hanging, it’s going to be out of the park. I think that’s why I had such a pretty good game today, because my sinker was down in the zone, and [Welington] Castillo was calling a great game.”
Jimenez’s start was his first since May 22, when a four-inning, six-run outing inflated his ERA to 7.17 and relegated him to bullpen duty. Jimenez made four relief appearances and was scored upon in each, but he returned to an Orioles’ rotation desperately seeking a solution to its recent struggles.
“He may not admit it, but there’s kind of a mental edge there,” Showalter said. “Taking a step back and [thinking], ‘The club needs me to deliver something.'”
Last season, after Jimenez was banished to the bullpen in August, he returned to the rotation at the end of the year and posted a 3.12 ERA in eight starts. The Orioles are hoping his bullpen hiatus will yield similar results this season.
“That’s what happened last year, and it feels like this year I’m being able to do the same,” Jimenez said. “I feel really good. My mechanics are good, my pitches are good, so I guess [the bullpen stint] helped.”
The Orioles’ offense comes alive
The ball was flying out of the park Sunday, as the two teams combined for eight home runs.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never seen the ball carry like it carried today,” Showalter said. “I don’t think there’s a tougher place to play in the summer for about a month than this place.”
Leadoff man Seth Smith set the tone with a leadoff blast in the first. After all, it’s only fitting that a player nicknamed “Dad” would hit a leadoff homer on Father’s Day.
“[The ball] was carrying really well,” Smith said. “It’s good for the hitters and not so good for the pitchers. I’m a hitter, so it was good for me.”
By the fifth inning, the Orioles were battering deep flies to all expanses of the ballpark. That included a memorable five-batter stretch consisting of an Adam Jones triple, a Mark Trumbo home run, a Trey Mancini triple, a Jonathan Schoop would-be homer that was caught by a leaping Dexter Fowler, and a Castillo home run. That brutal sequence chased Cardinals starter Lance Lynn from the game with a season-worst seven runs allowed.
The two triples might have been more impressive than the two home runs that inning. The Orioles aren’t a particularly fast team and their home ballpark doesn’t lend itself to triples, so collecting a pair of three-baggers in the same inning was a rare feat.
It was the first time the Orioles have hit two triples in one inning since Aug. 14, 2009, when Cesar Izturis and Felix Pie both tripled in the seventh in a 16-6 win. Pie’s triple completed his hitting for the cycle that night.
After getting held to two runs and five hits in the series opener Friday, the Orioles’ offense torched the Cardinals’ pitching staff. The Orioles handed Adam Wainwright the shortest start of his career Saturday — racking him for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings — before roughing up Lynn, who entered the game with a 2.69 ERA, fourth-best in the NL.
In the last two games, the Orioles have erupted for 24 runs and 26 hits, including nine home runs. With Trumbo’s fifth-inning homer, his 10th, the Orioles now have six players with 10 or more round-trippers this season. Trumbo joins Chris Davis (14), Manny Machado (13), Schoop (13) and Mancini (12).
The home run barrage is good to see for the Orioles, who thus far this season haven’t matched the pace of last year’s league-leading homer team. The club entered Sunday ranked fifth in the AL with 95 long balls, a solid total but not a spectacular one for an offense that prides itself on its power. Those numbers are now beginning to change for the better.
As for the Cardinals, they’ve now lost the last two games 15-7 and 8-5. In their previous visit to Baltimore in 2014, they gave up 25 runs, 41 hits and nine homers in a three-game series.
The Cardinals likely won’t be scheduled to make another interleague visit to Camden Yards for several years. And that’s probably just fine with them.
An injury to shortstop J.J. Hardy put a damper on the festivities. Hardy was hit in the hand by a Lynn pitch in the fourth inning and had to leave the game in the sixth with a right wrist contusion.
The Orioles are awaiting more tests, but after the game, they weren’t optimistic about the injury.
“Not good,” Showalter said. “We took an X-ray here and saw something that concerned us. He’s got a [CT] scan in the morning, and we’ll have a little more definitive idea there. … We’ll hope for some better news than what we first thought.”
Hardy, who missed parts of 2015 and 2016 with injuries, had been healthy all season until Sunday. He’s batting .211 with a .556 OPS in 64 games this season, the last of a three-year deal with the Orioles.