Showing old form, Ubaldo shuts down Twins
Prized free agent picks up first win for O's vs. old AL Central foe
MINNEAPOLIS -- This was the Ubaldo Jimenez the Orioles had been waiting for.
The much-maligned right-hander, signed to a four-year, $50-million deal this winter, found a home against same division in which he spent most of the past three seasons, turning in a gem Friday night at Target Field that finally helped show his new club why Jimenez was worth the investment.
Eclipsing his season high in strikeouts before the fifth inning ended, Jimenez fanned 10 over an electric 7 1/3 scoreless innings en route to his first win for the O's, a 3-0 victory over the Twins that followed a miserable April for the starter.
Jimenez said he was "definitely" relieved by the outing, which followed a 6.59 ERA in the season's opening month. "April was really tough. I really worked hard, and every year I start to get better and better in May. I couldn't wait until we got to May."
While Jimenez came up early, Thursday's calendar flip wasn't nearly as kind to the rest of the Orioles. They had played a marathon doubleheader at home that resulted in their touching down in Minnesota early Friday morning and making a roster move to help replenish a depleted bullpen.
"It's one of those nights when you can separate yourself from the people who don't do this; when I played I looked at it as an opportunity to shine because it's a challenge, especially at this level," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm really proud of them, and it all came off [Jimenez's] outing. You couldn't have drawn it up any better."
The win, Jimenez's first in six tries this season, marked a season high in innings and pitches thrown (118) and was the first time he allowed fewer than three runs this season.
Highlighted by a monster two-run homer from the red-hot Nelson Cruz, Jimenez paved the way for the O's third straight win, holding the Twins to just three hits -- Tommy Hunter allowed one more in a scoreless ninth -- in a game that was a long time coming given the organization's record commitment to the free-agent starter.
"I was able to do what I was supposed to do and be able to get deep into the game and help out the team," Jimenez said.
"I have a better read on my mechanics, and I was able to locate and command the fastball and use my breaking ball in any count. [Catcher Matt] Wieters was calling it; he called a great game. Every pitch he called I threw, and I was able to execute."
Jimenez recorded at least one strikeout an inning, fanning the side in the third, and he exited in favor of lefty Zach Britton after Eduardo Escobar's one-out double. Britton recorded the final two outs of the inning to keep the shutout intact, with Hunter picking up his eighth save in nine opportunities.
"It was huge," Cruz said of the win, which was Baltimore's fourth in its past five road contests. "Everybody contributed. The bullpen came in and shut it down. We got the hits when we needed to and played good defense. And it all started with Ubaldo, he threw the ball well."
Cruz, who has carried an Orioles lineup that is missing slugger Chris Davis, helped ensure Jimenez went home with a win, sending Twins starter Ricky Nolasco's 1-1 offering off the railing of the third deck for a mammoth two-run shot in the sixth inning. The homer -- which sailed an estimated 424 feet -- also scored Manny Machado, who had collected his first hit of the season.
"You are always trying to be respectful to the game and the other team, but I was kind of going to myself, 'I'm glad I got to be there for that,'" Showalter said of Cruz's homer. "You try to not make any facial expressions."
Cruz, who also doubled and scored in the fourth, has eight homers and 27 RBIs, leading the team in both categories as the offseason acquisition continues his torrid start to the season.
"That was a tough one," Nolasco said of watching Cruz's homer sail into the night. "It was obviously a difference in the game. It's a tough one to swallow with the slider I had going tonight to get beat in that situation. But that's what separates Nelson Cruz from other guys. He made a good adjustment and got down there and got that ball. That's what good hitters do."
The O's got on the board off Nolasco -- who took the loss despite a complete-game effort -- courtesy off Wieters' double off the wall. The Orioles catcher, who also doubled in the second, has had multihit games in six of his past seven.
The trio of runs was plenty for Jimenez, who twice pitched around leadoff singles and navigated past a two-out fielding error in the fifth. Following Sam Fuld's single in the third inning, Jimenez did not allow another hit until Escobar's in the eighth.
"It gave me a lot of confidence," Jimenez said of settling in. "It made me become a little more comfortable. I was able to get out of the jam [in the third inning] when two runners got on base. Just getting ahead and staying ahead. I made them swing the bat. I was able to be aggressive."