While a guest on 105.7’s “The Vinny & Haynie Show” on Thursday morning, I was asked what I expected to see from Orioles’ right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez that night.
I just laughed.
Nothing is more difficult to predict than which Jimenez will show up on any given evening.
After I snickered, this is what I suggested:
It didn’t look good because Jimenez hasn’t had a whole lot of success against Toronto in his career (4.48 ERA in 18 games) and specifically at Rogers Centre (6.33 ERA in seven games) heading into Thursday. And he was coming off an absolute nightmare in his last outing.
But then I said this: It always seems like when Jimenez’s back is against the wall, that his rotation or roster spot is in real jeopardy, he responds with a reminder of who he can be.
Every now and then I get one right (OK, so I hedged this one, but still, I’m taking credit for it).
Jimenez was spectacular Thursday in a 2-0 victory over the Blue Jays. He allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out eight in a season-high eight innings. He hadn’t pitched that deep since he turned in a complete game last September.
He threw 98 pitches – 71 for strikes. It was clearly his best performance of the season – in a tough place to pitch against a tough lineup. It may have been best performance as an Oriole. It certainly is in the discussion. And it was absolutely needed for both the team – which won four of six on this road trip to Tampa Bay and Toronto – and Jimenez, who allowed nine runs in 2 1/3 innings Friday at the Rays.
Jimenez’s ERA dropped all the way to 6.48; it was up to 7.26 heading into the night.
As we know, this is why Jimenez is so frustrating. A guy with that kind of talent shouldn’t have such a disastrous ERA. He shouldn’t get blown up in seemingly every other start.
But then he does what he did Thursday. He had expert command of his fastball, which made his split-fingered fastball and sinker so effective. Hitters don’t chase Jimenez’s breaking pitches when he can’t get the fastball over. But when he has command – and his quirky delivery provides deception — he’s tough to hit.
Really, he can be impossible to hit, like he was Thursday.
We have no idea when we’ll see the Good Ubaldo again. But we will see Jimenez again in a few more days, that’s for sure.
Scott’s impressive ascension to the Futures Game
It’s All-Star season for the minors (and soon for the majors), and several Orioles’ farmhands made their respective league’s All-Star Games this year.
The big one, though, was announced Thursday. The Orioles’ organization received two nods for the annual Futures Game, which will be played Sunday, July 9 at Marlins Park, two days before the majors’ Midsummer Classic in Miami.
Triple-A Norfolk catcher Chance Sisco was selected for the second straight season – and last year he homered during the prestigious event. The 22-year-old Sisco is widely considered the organization’s top prospect and is one of the youngest players in the International League, so his inclusion on the U.S, team roster isn’t much of a surprise.
But the other Orioles’ farmhand that made the 2017 U.S. Futures squad wasn’t expected to get there this quickly.
Lefty Tanner Scott, 22, has made noise in the organization since being drafted in the sixth round in 2014 simply because of his big arm. The 6-foot-2 lefty can hit 100 mph fairly routinely with his fastball.
But he’s had trouble throwing it for strikes in the minors, and that limited his perceived ceiling (in fact, BaltimoreBaseball.com dropped him out of our Top 12 to start this season).
As a way to harness that talent, the Orioles took a novel approach with Scott, who projects as a back-end bullpen arm. They returned him to Double-A Bowie and had him start every fifth game – but throw only three innings at a time. It would allow him to face batters more than once an appearance, but also kept him on a set schedule and routine.
Player Development Director Brian Graham and his staff deserve major kudos for rolling out the experiment, and Scott gets props for seizing the opportunity. In 2016, Scott had a 4.76 ERA in 43 relief appearances between Bowie and High-A Frederick, walking 57 and striking out 81 in 64 1/3 innings.
This year, in 15 abbreviated starts for the Baysox, Scott has a 1.40 ERA, walking 29 and striking out 57 in 45 innings. His strikeout rate per nine innings has remained about the same (11.4 this year to 11.3 in 2016), but his walk rate has fallen from 8.0 to 5.8.
There’s more room for improvement, of course. But Scott’s breaking pitches are reportedly sharper this year and he’s done enough to put himself into the minors’ most elite All-Star Game – and firmly onto the prospect radar.
That’s a pretty impressive surge in one year.
Camden Yards, the nicest place in the U.S.?
We’re spoiled around here when it comes to ballparks.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards is 25 years old this year, and it is still one of the best — if not the best — parks in Major League Baseball.
Every year, studies and opinion polls come out and back up that notion. It’s become sort of routine in Baltimore.
But recently, Camden Yards was nominated for a new accolade, one that goes beyond baseball.
Reader’s Digest was looking for a way to counter the seemingly daily examples of how this country is becoming more divided. So, the longtime magazine/website decided to spotlight the “10 Nicest Places in America,” and a ballpark near you made the list of mostly small towns across the country that have performed compassionate acts for others. (Rock Hall, Md., also made the Top 10 from 250-plus nominees for rallying around a displaced dog and making sure the pooch made it back to the Eastern Shore.)
Camden Yards made the cut on the strength of the organization’s “Birdland Heroes” program that highlights average people doing extraordinary things for their communities. At home games, “Birdland Heroes,” are introduced to the crowd and shown on the video screen while their achievements are detailed. And though the recipients always seem a little embarrassed by the attention, it never ceases to get a large ovation from the crowd.
It’s always a pretty cool moment, and I know I usually stop what I’m doing to hear about the most recent recipient.
My experience at Camden Yards is obviously different from what fans experience. Rarely am I away from the press box, so I can’t vouch for the friendliness vibe within the stands. But I know my interactions over the years with stadium employees – and the Baltimore City Police officers who protect the stadium – have almost always been positive.
It’s definitely a nice honor for the Orioles and their stadium to be considered one of the nicest places in the country. If you want to make sure OPaCY gets its due, you can vote for the stadium until July 7 at www.rd.com/nicest
The winning location will be featured as the cover story in the November edition of Reader’s Digest.