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Ubaldo era gets off on wrong foot vs. champs

Cruz goes yard once again, but rest of Orioles' offense held in check

BALTIMORE -- When Ubaldo Jimenez signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Orioles, he knew there would be questions about his up-and-down performance the past few seasons, his late signing and the expectations that go with that kind of financial commitment.

Jimenez, whose deal is the largest contract in club history for a free-agent pitcher, made it clear the pressure was already self-inflicted. The expectations that Jimenez would help lead Baltimore's staff was something he welcomed. However, Wednesday night's debut won't go down as a ceremonious occasion.

Jimenez allowed a pair of pivotal two-run homers as the Orioles' offense went missing in a 6-2 series-evening loss to the defending World Series champion Red Sox.

"Usually I get the ball down," Jimenez said of his 96-pitch outing. "That's something I'll have to work on in my bullpen [session] and get ready for my next one. I have to get it down, because most of the outs were fly balls.

"You always want to win. It doesn't matter if it is your first time or last one or in midseason. You always want to win, but it is part of the game. That's how it goes. I still have 30 more games to go."

The Orioles have to hope their offense will show up for some of those. The defeat was Baltimore's first of the season, and the club's big bats struggled mightily against Red Sox starter John Lackey. The Orioles didn't have a runner in scoring position the first eight innings, and Lackey went six strong to hold in check anyone not named Nelson Cruz.

Another late Baltimore signing, Cruz went deep for the second time in two games with a two-run homer in the fourth inning and has accounted for all of the Orioles' 2014 offense, scoring both of the runs in Monday's 2-1 win.

Still, two games is a little too early to panic about this lineup, right?

"Yeah," manager Buck Showalter said. "[We've faced] two good pitchers, two of the better pitchers in the American League last year. But our guys don't look at that as an excuse not to do well. Nobody likes to face them, but they look forward to the challenge. You wouldn't be at this level if you didn't like those challenges. Like I've said many times, when a pitcher's on top of his game and a hitter's on top of his game, the pitcher wins more times than not. That's why pitching is at such a premium. And I thought our pitcher did a pretty good job, with the exception of a couple hiccups.

"We pitched pretty well the last two games, but you're going to have to pitch real well to compete with them. That's why they were the last team standing last year. A good club and everything, but they pitch real well."

Lackey cruised early, retiring 11 straight after Nick Markakis' single before Chris Davis worked a two-out walk in the fourth. Cruz then put just enough on an 0-2 pitch to clear the right-field scoreboard to tie the game at 2.

Jimenez gave the lead right back, hitting Daniel Nava to start the fifth before grooving an 0-2 pitch in Mike Napoli's wheelhouse. The Red Sox first baseman tattooed the pitch over the wall in deep center field to give Boston a lead it would never relinquish.

"He threw strikes and located," catcher Matt Wieters said of Lackey, who struck out six. "He was able to sort of cut the ball in and out. He located all night. Seemed like we were down 0-2 before we could get a pitch over the middle to hit."

Prior to hanging an 0-2 pitch to Napoli, Jimenez's 1-1 offering to David Ortiz met a similar fate in the top of the third.

"That was a good pitch," Jimenez said of Ortiz's two-run blast to right field. "It seems like he was looking for that pitch, and he hit it good."

Other than that, the 30-year-old Jimenez was able to hold his own, avoiding the deep counts that ended Opening Day starter Chris Tillman's campaign early on Monday and showing flashes of just how nasty his stuff can be over six innings. Jimenez never had a clean inning, but he was able to get out of major trouble with six strikeouts, one that ended each of the first three frames.

"[He] made a couple mistakes," Showalter said of Jimenez, who gave up just one home run in his final 12 starts of 2013. "Wasn't going to be much of a margin for error with Lackey. From the get-go, he was going to be sharp tonight. [Jimenez] pitches like that all year, he'll win his share of games."

Ryan Webb followed Jimenez in the seventh and allowed a pair of one-out singles, with a throwing error charged to third baseman Ryan Flaherty putting men on second and third. After intentionally walking Ortiz, Napoli made him pay with a two-run single to stretch the deficit to four.

Lackey also exited after six and has gone at least five innings in 23 of 24 careers starts against the Orioles.

"I threw a bunch of heaters, man," said Lackey. "I played a bit of country hardball there for the first three innings. After that, I started mixing in some stuff. I made the one mistake and felt pretty good overall."

The O's biggest threat of the night came off closer Koji Uehara in the bottom of the ninth when Davis reached on Napoli's error and took second with two outs on a wild pitch by Uehara to give the Orioles their first runner in scoring position. J.J. Hardy's two-out single put runners on the corners, but Flaherty grounded out to end the game.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
Read More: Baltimore Orioles, Ryan Webb, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez