It appears that lightning doesn’t strike twice for Ubaldo Jimenez.
Last year, Jimenez’s banishment to the bullpen in August managed to jump-start his season. He returned to the rotation at the end of that month and was the Orioles’ best starting pitcher down the stretch, posting a 2.45 ERA and delivering five quality starts in his seven outings. (Let’s not talk about what happened in the wild card game.)
So this season, when the Orioles were again forced to demote a struggling Jimenez to relief duty (this time in June), there was some semblance of hope that he could right the ship as he did in 2016. Some optimism that he could turn on the jets in the late months of the season again.
It hasn’t happened.
Jimenez, since rejoining the rotation June 18, has been just as erratic and unpredictable as he was before his bullpen hiatus. With his latest unimpressive outing against the Oakland Athletics Tuesday (five innings, five earned runs), Jimenez has a 6.46 ERA in 13 starts since his return. Only four of those have been quality starts. Six times, he has allowed five or more runs.
One thing, though, has changed for Jimenez. Walks are no longer his biggest problem. Sure, he still issues his fair share of free passes, but his walk rate since his return is only 3.6 per nine innings. That’s actually lower than his career mark (4.1).
Instead, what’s really hurt Jimenez is that he’s become extremely hittable. Entering Tuesday’s game, opposing batters were hitting .290 with a .906 OPS against him since June 18.
He’s also been prone to the gopherball. He coughed up three more home runs to the Athletics on Tuesday — two to Ryon Healy and one to Jed Lowrie — and has now surrendered 17 in 69 2/3 innings since June 18. That’s a rate of 2.2 homers every nine innings, dramatically higher than his career 0.9 rate. And remember, this is a guy who used to pitch his home games at Coors Field for six years.
“It definitely wasn’t a good one,” Jimenez said of his Tuesday outing. “I left a couple pitches up, and they made me pay for it. The first one was a fastball that was supposed to be inside, and it got too much of the plate. And the other one was a hanging slider.”
The bottom line is that even when Jimenez keeps the ball in the strike zone, his stuff simply isn’t fooling enough hitters. And that’s a problem that a mere bullpen stint can’t easily solve.
“It’s never a good feeling not to be able to be there for the team,” Jimenez said. “Today was a tough one.”
Orioles struggling to build momentum
I think we can all agree that sweeping a series is no easy feat. Even the best team in baseball is no guarantee to win three games in a row against the worst. That’s just the nature of baseball.
That said, the Orioles, who are frantically trying to keep their head above water in the wild card race, really could have used a sweep against the Athletics. The Orioles, who struggle on the road, need to rack up all the wins they can while they’re on their home field — especially against the non-contending A’s, who have the third-worst record in the AL.
But with Tuesday’s loss, a sweep is out the window, and the Orioles are at risk of losing the series in Wednesday’s finale.
It’s a familiar story. In each of their last five series, the Orioles have won the opening game, only to lose the next one. They haven’t won any of those series. And they haven’t won two games in a row since Aug. 6-7.
“We’ve talked about it, and they’re certainly aware of it,” manager Buck Showalter said. “But we’re going to have to get consistent in our starting pitching in order to have that type of momentum and to have those things happen. We have some good things, and then we have some that really put us in a hole early on. Sometimes we climb out of it, sometimes we don’t.”
A half-hearted promotion
Tuesday was Game of Thrones night at Camden Yards, inspired by the hit HBO series. And I must say, I was a little disappointed with how it played out.
Fans who bought a special ticket package were given the opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne and received an “Adam Jones: The Watcher on the Wall” T-shirt. But that’s pretty much where the Game of Thrones connection ended. Once the game began, I didn’t notice any mention of or reference to the show.
As an avid Game of Thrones fan, I was hoping the promotions staff would find creative ways to incorporate it into the ballpark entertainment throughout the game. How about a Jumbotron feature in which Orioles players name their favorite character? How about a Hot Dog Race that replaces Ketchup, Mustard and Relish with Daenerys’ three dragons?
What about getting a cast member from the show to make an appearance? Even if the big names weren’t available, surely the Orioles could’ve found some minor actor to show up. There have been approximately 10,000 characters on the show, give or take.
What about introducing the starting lineups to the Game of Thrones opening theme, using images from the show? Or making Game of Thrones-related puns with players’ names? (I’ve got one: Trey Mance-Rayder. Boom, there you go.)
Seventeen other major league teams have hosted Game of Thrones nights this season as part of a partnership between MLB and HBO. Many of them found unique ways to pay homage to the show. The Tampa Bay Rays introduced their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, by portraying them as white walkers on the scoreboard. The Milwaukee Brewers’ Twitter account mocked up pictures of their players as characters from the show. The Orioles’ attempt was a bit lacking by comparison.
And yes, I’m well aware that I might be the only person who actually cares about this. Maybe the Orioles didn’t want to distract from the game at hand by delving too deeply into a fantasy TV series.
But if you’re going to have a Game of Thrones promotion, I say you go all out and have fun with it. This is an entertainment business, after all.