Ubaldo Jimenez went into his bullpen session Friday with the same goal he has every time he's coming off a bad start: find his fastball command. When he has it, he's as effective as anyone in the league. When he doesn't, as has been the case several times during a trying May, it's easy to tell something is amiss.
"He has [commanded it] some this year, and when those things are different than they've been in the last outing or two, he gets deep in the game," manager Buck Showalter said. "It's an ongoing process when he can. It's been a challenge for him. He's pitched some good games for him this year, and we always think that the next one will be back to form. I know it's frustrating for him, because we all know what he's capable of."
Jimenez is coming off a loss Tuesday to the Seattle Mariners that saw him allow six runs on five hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings, bringing his ERA to 5.60 on the season with a 4.45 FIP (fielding-independent pitching ERA) in 45 innings. By comparison, Jimenez's debut season with the Orioles in 2014, which saw him on the out of the rotation come playoff time, began with a 4.02 ERA over his first eight starts.
The peripherals from 2014 (41 strikeouts, 22 walks, five home runs allowed, 1.45 WHIP) and this year (41 strikeouts, 24 walks, five home runs, 1.76 WHIP) are strikingly similar, albeit in two more innings two seasons ago.
"The thing is, I know I'm walking a lot of guys," Jimenez said. "But it's not like I'm throwing everywhere. I'm this close to being where I want to be. It's frustrating. You get to that point that you know you're this far from being good, and then things don't go your way. I'm looking forward to it being where it wants to be."
"There's a lot more to it than just the statistics — through that, he's gone through some three- or four-inning periods in those outings where he doesn't have those [command] issues," Showalter said. "It's just one or two innings where it gets out of whack."
Sunday's start against the Los Angeles Angels represent a chance to turn his fortunes around at the site of his best start as an Oriole. Last Aug. 8 at Angel Stadium, Jimenez gave the Orioles eight scoreless two-hit inning in a 5-0 win.
That's the ideal every time out, but Jimenez simply just wants to be better than he has so far in May (1-2, 7.36 ERA in four starts).
"I guess that's what everybody's looking for," he said. "You want to be there for your team, and when things don't got the way you wanted you don't feel good."
Left is right: With Brian Matusz's struggles meaning the Orioles lack a traditional left-handed reliever for high-leverage situations, Showalter said the team have others who have no trouble getting lefties out.
Darren O'Day and Brad Brach are both excellent against righties, but get lefties out, too. Brach entered Saturday holding them to a .220 average in 41 at-bats this year, and said he has come about it in a unique way. Brach was a minor league closer, and thus faced all kinds of hitters. He never specialized.
"In the minors, I never really thought about facing lefties and righties," said Brach, who pitched a scoreless ninth Friday. "Up here, it's a little bit different. But once I was able to develop my changeup, it made a huge difference. It definitely is the equalizer against lefties.
"I think just being able to pitch in that closer role — in the low minors, everybody pitches to everybody. But once you get to Double-A and Triple-A, they try to start seeing where your ability is. For me, I was able to close, so it didn't matter who I was facing — lefties, righties, switch-hitters."
O'Day has actually been better against left-handers this season, holding them to a .182 batting average in 22 at-bats before Saturday, while righties hit .225 with three home runs in 40 at-bats against him.
Closer Zach Britton doesn't get to face lefties by situation — his situation is the ninth inning — but Showalter said a left-handed closer is "utopia" because so many bats off the bench are left-handed.
Britton allowed just one hit in his first nine at-bats against left-handed batters this season.
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