There’s something almost sinful about wasting a quality start from Ubaldo Jiménez, who’s registered five of them this season among his 16 outings. It’s like the canteen scene in “Three Amigos” with Chevy Chase gargling and spitting out his water and dumping the rest in the desert sand while Steve Martin and Martin Short are practically dying of thirst.
(YouTube it if the reference is lost on you. Martin’s expression is priceless.)
Jiménez made one bad pitch or none yesterday, depending on who’s doing the evaluating. Jiménez said he threw the pitch that he wanted to Evan Longoria in the sixth inning, but the Rays third baseman reacted as though he had been sitting on it, which led to a standing ovation from Rays fans at Tropicana Field.
The two-seam fastball was working for Jiménez, but he located it right in Longoria’s hitting zone. Longoria left a puddle of saliva at home plate.
These are the losses that really sting. The Orioles had a chance to win the series and again get to within three games of .500. The three teams ahead of them in the division won yesterday. So did the team behind them. The gap between the Orioles and the second wild card widened to 5 1/2 games. It makes for a crummy off-day in Texas.
Despite Jiménez limiting the Rays to two runs in six innings, the rotation’s ERA is 5.90 heading into the Rangers series. The Orioles are trying to acquire another starter at the non-waiver trade deadline and they may need three new ones next season, with Jiménez and Chris Tillman pending free agents and Wade Miley’s contract including a $12 million club option for 2018.
This will come as a surprise to no one that the Orioles refuse to spend big on pitching and it’s a philosophy that manager Buck Showalter firmly endorses. He’s seen too many starters break down. He’s seen too many regrettable deals. It falls upon the farm system to adequately fill the gaps
* In a completely unrelated note - we’re jumping around here - there have been no extension talks involving Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette, whose contracts expire following the 2018 season.
Don’t read too much into it. The topic just hasn’t come up at this time.
As I was reminded a few days ago, everyone is subject to evaluation and that’s especially true when seasons take a nasty turn. But there’s no indication that Duquette and Showalter are in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
* Going back to Jiménez, his nine strikeouts yesterday represented his highest total on the road since May 2, 2014 in Minnesota (10).
Jiménez has 1,669 career strikeouts to pass Pedro Astacio (1,664) for fifth all-time among Dominican-born pitchers.
There are 14 position players listed and all of them are on the major league roster. Shortstop J.J. Hardy is on the 10-day disabled list.
Hardy likely will be cleared on Monday to increase the strengthening exercises on his right wrist. He could come off the disabled list in the middle of August.
In the meantime, Rubén Tejada continues to start at shortstop while Flaherty begins an injury rehab assignment tonight at Double-A Bowie.
Tejada’s defense was shaky at the beginning, but he seems have grown more comfortable. He made a couple of difficult plays against the Rays and handled the routine ones.
“First of all, coming over and being in the minor leagues after being in the big leagues for so long, I’m sure he’s wanting to do well,” said third base coach Bobby Dickerson, who doubles as infield instructor. “He probably put some unnecessary pressure on himself trying to fit in with the reputation of being a good defense here. Whether it’s real or it’s not real, the reputation is there. We play pretty good D, so I’m sure he put some high expectations on himself, and maybe we did, also. A little tenseness to him. And ‘comfortable’ is probably the right word.
“He’s getting more comfortable and he’s acclimated with the guys. I see the relationship with Manny (Machado) and Jonathan (Schoop). They have a little fun with him now, so I’m sure he’s a lot more comfortable now than when he got here, for sure.”
Tejada has made 110 starts at second base in the majors and 34 at third base in the majors, but shortstop is his primary position. Yesterday marked his 426th start.
Tejada seems to have the tools to handle shortstop. The Orioles are checking on the intangibles, which separate Hardy from so many others at the position.
“He’s got good hands, he’s got arm strength,” Dickerson said. “When you look throughout baseball, you can go all the way to A ball and you can see hands, you can see arm strength, you can see feet. The whole thing about playing defense is the brain, to be able to slow the game down in high-pressure situations, control the ball, make smart decisions. Those are the types of things that make you a defender at this level.
“If you just look for tools ... You go to an A ball game and you’ll see some stuff that will knock your head off. You’ll go, ‘Oh, my God, look at this guy.’ He slides and catches the ball, he jump-throws like Manny. You’ll see all these things. But doing it at 9 o’clock with the bases loaded in a one-run game, those are different. They’re high-pressure ground balls and not everybody can do that.
“We like his tool package and you see he’s getting more comfortable. But that’s something that we’re going to continue to work on and try to keep him playing the game quick, but slow. Not let situations get him out of the thought process. That remains to be seen, who he is in that manner. We see the positive signs that we like to see, but going forward, those are the things that will have to continue to show. Infield in and you get a ground ball to your left, you turn a double play with it or throw to the plate? Will he make the right decisions when the pressure is on?
“So far, he’s done it. He’s done that lately.”
* Santander may seem like a forgotten man after spending the year down in Sarasota with a right forearm strain, but Showalter remains intrigued by him and thinks he can be a contributor somewhere down the road, his Rule 5 status intact for 2018.
The Orioles selected Santander from the Indians organization after he hit .290/.368/.494 with 42 doubles, 20 home runs and 95 RBIs last summer with Single-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League. He’s a 22-year-old switch-hitter who teased the Orioles with a couple of home runs in spring training. They just need him to be healthy.
“He’s been hurt for a long time and we think he’s finally ready to get that all behind him,” Showalter said. “We saw it in the spring. There’s some really interesting skills there and we knew there were going to be some medical challenges, but we think he’s got a chance to be well worth waiting for.”
* The Orioles are expected to move Preston Palmeiro to second base in the fall instructional league. They want to evaluate him at a new position.
Palmeiro, a seventh-round pick last year out of North Carolina State and the youngest son of former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, is playing first base at Single-A Delmarva. He began yesterday batting .252/.325/.424 with 18 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 56 RBIs in 91 games.
* Anyone remember left-hander Tim Berry? OK, does anyone remember that he’s back in the organization?
The Orioles signed Berry, 26, to a minor league contract on Jan. 14 and sent him to Twin Lakes Park. He was assigned to Bowie, where he posted a 1.96 ERA in his first 24 relief appearances.
Berry needs to cut down on the walks - he issued 20 in 36 2/3 innings at Bowie and four in five innings with Triple-A Norfolk - but Showalter brought up his name earlier this month. He’s gotten noticed.
The Orioles drafted Berry in the 50th round in 2009 and he registered a 3.85 ERA in 27 starts at Single-A Frederick in 2013 and a 3.51 ERA in 23 starts at Bowie in 2014. His 2015 season at Bowie included a 2-7 record, 7.32 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, .314 opponents’ average and a move to the bullpen.
The Marlins claimed Berry off waivers two days before Christmas in 2015.
* Ryan Mountcastle, one of the top prospects in the organization, is 4-for-27 since moving up from Frederick to Bowie. He has one walk and seven strikeouts.
Mountcastle was batting .314/.343/.542 with 35 doubles, 15 home runs and 47 RBIs in 88 games with the Keys. He’s handling multiple challenges that will require patience on both sides.
Besides adapting to a higher level of pitching in the Eastern League, Mountcastle also is learning a new position by moving from shortstop to third base. It’s more common for players to make the position switch before their promotion, though Machado is an extreme example by going from shortstop at Bowie to third base with the Orioles.
Worked out pretty well for the kid.