Ubaldo cools nerves to deliver impressive first start
Newest rotation addition deals two perfect innings in Orioles spring debut
SARASOTA, Fla. -- As he was preparing to take the mound at Ed Smith Stadium on Friday afternoon, the feeling set in for Ubaldo Jimenez. He was about to make his official Orioles debut, and he was a little nervous.
"Definitely, I was excited. I'm like, 'I'm going to be there for the first time wearing the Orioles uniform,'" Jimenez said. "I was very excited, but I was like, 'I have to get it under control because usually when you try to do too much, things get out of hand and [you] throw a lot of balls.'"
It was only a Grapefruit League exhibition game, but suffice it to say, Jimenez got it under control. The Orioles' newest starter threw two perfect innings and struck out three batters in the Orioles' 15-4 win over the Phillies. He threw 17 of his 25 pitches for strikes, mixing in a few sliders and splitters with his two-seam fastballs.
Signed to a four-year, $50 million deal on Feb. 19 to upgrade Baltimore's rotation, the 30-year-old right-hander showed flashes of the dominant pitcher he was from 2008-10 and in the second half of last season. The Orioles hope he can do so over a full season and become a top-of-the-rotation force once again.
"We'll find out," Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace said. "But certainly he has the ability with what he's done."
Manager Buck Showalter set the bar low before Jimenez's first appearance in an Orioles uniform, saying that he just wanted the veteran starter to get his work in and get ready for the regular season. But the Orioles were encouraged by what they saw from Jimenez on the mound, as he touched 91 mph on the stadium's radar gun and efficiently breezed through Philadelphia's top six batters.
"You don't know what to expect. Guy's getting his feet on the ground for the first time," Orioles bench coach John Russell said. "But I was really impressed with the way he commanded the ball to both sides of the plate, especially bringing the ball back, his sinker, starting it at a left-hander and bringing it back for a strike. That's a good sign for his first outing. Threw some decent offspeed pitches. I thought it went very well for him, and he did some things he wanted to get done today."
Ben Revere led off the game with a quick groundout back to the mound. Jimenez then struck out Jimmy Rollins, who went down swinging, and caught Domonic Brown looking at a 90-mph fastball for strike three to end the inning.
Jimenez came back out to the mound and got Ryan Howard to look at a called third strike. Marlon Byrd then flied out to right-center field, where Nick Markakis made an impressive running grab, and Bobby Abreu flied out to left to finish up Jimenez's nine-pitch second inning.
Overall, Jimenez said, he couldn't have imagined a much better first day on the job.
"You always want to make a first impression. It means a lot," Jimenez said. "Obviously, I want to go out there and be there for the team right away.
"I feel good, but I know I'm not 100 percent like most of the pitchers are right now. They're probably a week ahead of me, but I feel fine. I'm getting there. I've been doing some routines that they want me to do in order to get ready for the season, and that's what I'm doing."
Part of that routine was to avoid throwing a four-seam fastball in his first start. The plan going forward is to keep focusing on throwing the ball over the plate, which he said will get more difficult as his arm strength and velocity continue to build -- even if he made it look simple enough on Friday.
As effortlessly as Jimenez appeared to find his rhythm on the mound, he seems to be fitting in just as well in the clubhouse. After spending the last 2 1/2 years in Cleveland and the rest of his career in Colorado, Jimenez said he was curious to see how long it would take him to adjust to his new surroundings. But he said Friday that he "felt at home the first day," and Wallace said the Orioles have taken to Jimenez the same way.
"Very engaging. As you see, he captures you with that smile, but he gets serious when you see him go about his job," Wallace said. "He has fit in very well so far, and I think the guys have embraced him."
That's helped Jimenez feel comfortable during his first 2 1/2 weeks with the Orioles. All it took to make him relax Friday was a reminder that if he was nervous, he'd start trying too hard, overthrowing the ball and missing his spots.
As first impressions go, it certainly could have been worse.
"I think for his sake, and all the things involved, it's great to get the first one out of the way," Wallace said. "He was pretty efficient. I think more than anything, it was just real good to get his feet on the ground."