Jimenez’s complete game, Davis’ big hit and a 7-3 win

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With a Blue Jays’ loss today, the Orioles again have moved within two games of first place in the American League East. The shuffling continues, the tiny increments growing larger in importance as the days disappear from the schedule.

Ubaldo Jimenez came up big for the Orioles today, the latest starter to do so in Chris Tillman’s absence. Jimenez has three quality starts in a row and today marked his ninth career complete game and the first by an Oriole since Miguel Gonzalez on Sept. 3, 2014 versus the Reds.

Jimenez didn’t need Zach Britton’s help in the ninth, retiring the Rays in order and finishing at 114 pitches in a 7-3 win at Tropicana Field, whose dome currently is being punished by a heavy rain.

We’re trapped inside. The walk to the media parking lot isn’t in play.

Jimenez retired the last 17 batters and 25 of 26, but it only looked easy.

Ubaldo-Jimenez-throws-gray-sidebar.jpg“No, it wasn’t easy at all,” he said. “It’s never easy to get people out. (Matt) Wieters helped me out a lot. He put down the right fingers and everything was good. He called the right fingers and I executed the pitches.”

Jimenez began to think about a complete game beyond the midway point.

“Probably in the seventh inning I looked up and I only had about 80 pitches, so I knew I had a chance,” he said. “I just needed another quick inning and I knew I’d have another chance to go out there.”

Jimenez has posted a 2.70 ERA in his last four starts, walking only three batters in the last three.

“My mechanics are where they’re supposed to be and that allowed me to execute pitches and have good command of the fastball,” said Jimenez, who’s 6-11 with a 6.19 ERA.

“It feels good. I have the faith that things can change. That’s why I never give up. I always keep my head up and I just keep moving forward.”

Teammates have lifted him in the darkest of times, and there have been plenty since he signed a four-year, $50 million contract, the largest in franchise history for a pitcher in free agency.

“It’s great,” he said. “I know since the first day I signed with the Orioles that those guys, they’ve tried to be there for me. Especially when things don’t go the way I wanted them to be, they have always been there for me. They always support me and do everything possible to help me out on the field, too.”

The rotation has produced six quality starts in the last eight games, the timing essential with Tillman on the disabled list.

“It’s good, especially this time of the year,” Jimenez said. “Everybody knows what we’re fighting for and this is the month where we need to give it all. It’s great having this kind of game for the guys.”

It started poorly, with Logan Morrison hitting a three-run homer in the first inning after a single and two stolen bases for Kevin Kiermaier and a pitch that nailed Evan Longoria on the right hand. He had no-hit stuff the rest of the way.

“Everything was good,” Jimenez said. “The sinker was great, especially after the fifth inning. I was able to get the ball down and they started hitting a lot of ground balls. I was able to throw the breaking ball, the slider and the split behind in the count. Curve was good. Everything was perfect.”

Not in the eyes of at least one Ray.

“I feel like he was effectively wild.” Morrison said. “I think overall we have to do a better job of getting the ball in the zone and barreling him up. There’s no reason that he should have thrown a complete game against us today. I didn’t think he was that good. He was good, but he wasn’t that good. We got ourselves out a lot.”

Matt Andriese couldn’t get out Chris Davis to end the fifth inning. Davis singled with two outs to score two runs, just as it appeared that the Orioles would waste another golden opportunity. They took a 4-3 lead which grew later in the inning on Mark Trumbo’s RBI single and Jonathan Schoop’s two-run single.

“I’ve been trying to do that the whole year,” said Davis, who hit his 34th home run in the fourth inning. “I feel like these guys have been picking me up and eventually I was hoping that I could rise up to the challenge. So I was happy with the way things turned out today, but just really proud of the way we battled as a team.”

Most of the plaudits were reserved for Jimenez.

“That was awesome,” Davis said. “I was pretty fired up to see him go back out there for the ninth and get through the whole game. I think early on in the game he ran into a little bit of trouble, obviously, but he was able to hang in there and keep going and that’s kind of the attitude of this team.

Davis-Trumbo-fist-bump-gray-sidebar.jpg“I feel like there was a sense of urgency with the infield and the outfield to make the play when you see a guy battling like that. Just continuing to go out there and throw strikes. It was huge for us.”

It allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest his bullpen and his club to gain a game on the Jays.

“That was fun,” Showalter said. “I think it was, I don’t know if ‘impressive’ is the word. This is a guy that was one of the best pitchers in the game and on a given night will be again. I think you can almost want something too much. Everybody wanted that so much for Ubaldo, the class with which he’s handled everything that’s been thrown his way. He’s pitched some good games for us. At a time of need, he’s really stepped up with Chris being out.

“I thought the second, third inning he kind of found his way a little bit, found his step and kind of gave everybody a feeling in the dugout. Our guys stormed back there and really got after it. A lot of good baserunning plays, a lot of good fundamental ... I thought Chris was a big momentum swing. They were going to wiggle out of it, and Chris not only did that, but took second on the throw and ended up scoring a run. Matt and Trum moved up on a short wild pitch. Those things are big.”

Jimenez recorded his first complete game since June 1, 2011 at Dodger Stadium. It was his third complete game of two hits or fewer, including his April 17, 2010 no-hitter in Atlanta.

This was the Orioles’ first complete game of two hits or fewer since Jason Hammel’s one-hitter on June 16, 2012 in Atlanta.

“He threw the ball great,” Wieters said. “All of his pitches, I could put them down at any time. He had them all working. I thought the best part of the day was the mentality, go out there and throw strikes and give us a chance. And we were able to get him some runs and win the game.

“It was big. We’re going to need him to keep going and keep it up and keep doing what he’s been doing these last three starts. But it’s nice to see that when he went through some tough times to come back and have some good times.”

Jimenez was given another chance in the rotation out of need. Now, the Orioles need him to stay in it and keep delivering.

“He’s mature enough to know there’s going to be another opportunity when we talked originally,” Showalter said. “He used the time wisely and got himself ready when the opportunity presented itself. I don’t think there’s anybody on the team that our guys pull for more just because the way he conducts himself through adversity. And everybody has it in there.”

The storylines always tilt toward the adversity Jimenez has faced. He’s responsible for the angle. No one else to blame.

“But he’s had his share of ups,” Showalter said. “I’ve got a long memory and he’s pitched some really good baseball for us. It’s tough to come in, everybody expecting you to be perfect every time you’re out because of a commitment made to you. Pitching in the American League and the major leagues is a hard thing to do. He’s kind of made the evolvement from a guy who threw 97-98 to a guy who does some other things.”

Like filling that need and being part of the rotation’s recent surge.

“And (Dylan) Bundy and a little thing like (Wade) Miley not imploding yesterday and getting through five,” Showalter said.

“It’s nice not to get anybody up in the bullpen today. We haven’t had that luxury much and neither has any other team in baseball. We’ve got I think four guys on our pitching staff before we call people up who are basically rookies, and I think sometimes we lose sight of that.”

Jimenez looks like a polished veteran when he’s throwing strikes, the funky delivery no longer a detriment.

“Fastball command,” Wieters said in explaining Jimenez’s improvement.

“I think he’s getting to where he can get ahead in counts and, if he gets behind, he can locate his fastball. On top of that, I think his rhythm and the way he’s going about is business is real good right now. It’s not really too much thinking, it’s just getting the ball and throw, and he’s doing real well.”

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