Com­ing through at the right mo­ment

Me­chan­i­cal ad­just­ments give Jimenez his com­mand back en­ter­ing stretch drive

Baltimore Sun - - ORIOLES - By Ed­uardo A. Encina eencina@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Ed­dieInThe­Yard

ST. PETERS­BURG, FLA. — Ubaldo Jimenez’s con­stant bat­tles with his me­chan­ics date to the early days of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. It’s easy to dis­sect a de­liv­ery with so many pieces to it. And there’s no one more frus­trated by the fre­quent ad­just­ments he must make than the Orioles right-han­der him­self.

Jimenez seems to have found his step now, emerg­ing from a stint in the back of the Orioles bullpen to put to­gether his best stretch of this roller-coaster sea­son. His resur­gence is oc­cur­ring at the right time, with less than four weeks re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son and the Orioles push­ing for their third post­sea­son berth in five years.

“It’s been tough,” Jimenez said. “It’s not only now. It’s been like that for­ever. Even when I was in the mi­nors, I had peo­ple telling me I wasn’t go­ing to make it or I wasn’t go­ing to last a long time be­cause of my arm. They said I was go­ing to break down and things like that, so it’s been tough. But at the same time, that’s what’s made me suc­cess­ful. The things that I have — the kind of move­ment, the break­ing ball, the de­liv­ery — when it’s right, it’s one of the best.”

The Orioles will need Jimenez’s best down the stretch. Since re­turn­ing to the team’s start­ing ro­ta­tion to fill in for righthander Chris Till­man, who went on the dis­abled list late last month, Jimenez has a 2.91 ERA in three starts, de­liv­er­ing the club’s first com­plete game since 2014 in his most re­cent out­ing, Mon­day at the Tampa Bay Rays. In the past, me­chan­i­cal trou­ble led to con­trol prob­lems. But over his past three starts, Jimenez has 13 strike­outs and just three walks over 212⁄ in­nings. Dur­ing that stretch, Jimenez has held op­pos­ing hit­ters to a .160 bat­ting av­er­age.

Mon­day’s 7-3 win of­fered a glimpse of how dom­i­nant Jimenez can be at his best. In the fi­nal eight in­nings, he didn’t al­low a hit and let just one man reach base. He was able to ef­fi­ciently use all four of his pitches — his sinker, split­ter, slider and curve­ball — while miss­ing bats along the way, forc­ing a sea­son-high 17 swings and misses.

“What he has — and it’s why he’s been ef­fec­tive dur­ing cer­tain times in his ca­reer — is be­cause he has an in­nate abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late the ball,” Orioles pitch­ing coach Dave Wal­lace said. “You just saw that two-seamer [Mon­day]. He nailed it all day long. And all of a sud­den, he came up with the Ubaldo Jimenez, shown in his com­plete-game win Mon­day over the Rays, said watch­ing videos of his best sea­sons im­proved his de­liv­ery. His ERA over his past four starts is 2.70. split and the break­ing ball and his hand has been blessed with what we call a hand that can ma­nip­u­late the base­ball. Now, along with that, that’s part of his de­cep­tion, too.

“You don’t want to do too much be­cause you’re go­ing to take away from what his strength is. But be­cause he’s strug­gled with his com­mand, that’s the bat­tle you al­ways have. He’s go­ing to have to bat­tle.”

As the Orioles en­ter their most crit­i­cal series this sea­son — three games in Detroit this week­end against a Tigers team that trails them by one game for the sec­ond Amer­i­can League wild card — Jimenez will be called upon Satur­day night to con­tinue this suc­cess­ful run against a team he hasn’t fared well against. He is 5-11 with a 5.68 ERAin 20 ca­reer starts against the Tigers.

ButJimenez­said­he­feels as con­fi­dent in his me­chan­ics now as he did six years ago, when he was one of the game’s best pitch­ers. In 2010, Jimenez en­joyed his best ma­jor league sea­son, go­ing 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA for the Colorado Rockies, fin­ish­ing third in the Na­tional League Cy Young Award vot­ing. He hasn’t had that kind of con­sis­tent suc­cess since, but Jimenez said his time in the bullpen and look­ing back at 2010 helped cor­rect the mis­steps in his de­liv­ery.

“The [way] ev­ery­thing is go­ing with my me­chan­ics is mak­ing me get in a good rhythm,” Jimenez said. “And then watch­ing videos, com­par­ing videos from now to 2010, it is like my me­chan­ics are re­ally close to where they were six years ago. My hands are break­ing down and that is al­low­ing me to de­liver the pitch how­ever I want.”

Jimenez was de­moted to the bullpen for the sec­ond time this sea­son af­ter his ERA bal­looned to 7.38 on July 8. He then pitched just once over a 29-day span, but he used that time to work with Wal­lace, bullpen coach Dom Chiti and spe­cial as­sign­ment pitch­ing in­struc­tor Ra­mon Martinez. Jimenez said his main ad­just­ment has been when break­ing his hands from his glove. In­stead of ex­tend­ing his arm back, he’s low­er­ing it, which he said has al­lowed him to get be­hind the ball and gain bet­ter com­mand.

“That’s the main thing,” Jimenez said. “It’s some­thing I didn’t know I wasn’t do­ing. They just started show­ing me videos of 2010, 2011, 2012 and then this year. Things were way dif­fer­ent to how I was pitch­ing three months ago. Once we started work­ing on that thing, ev­ery­thing started get­ting bet­ter.”

Wal­lace said the key was get­ting Jimenez com­fort­able with his de­liv­ery again, and while his ad­just­ment doesn’t sound huge, it has been a trig­ger for bet­ter com­mand.

“He has one of those de­liv­er­ies that has a lot of mov­ing parts,” Wal­lace said. “Some­times it takes a while to get ev­ery­thing in track. He’s been through it be­fore. He’s ob­vi­ously an ex­pe­ri­enced veteran and he knows what it feels like. To his credit, he’s done it.”

What has emerged is a much more con­fi­dent Jimenez, who can again build off his No. 1 pitch — the sinker — to get hit­ters out, then com­ple­ment it with his other pitches. The ef­fec­tive­ness of his sinker, which cre­ates a dras­tic late break when thrown well, has been key. Over his past three starts, op­pos­ing hit­ters are bat­ting just .184 off Jimenez’s sinker; they hit a ro­bust .365 off it be­fore the first of those starts.

“The bot­tom line is you want to get peo­ple out, and you want to be re­ally care­ful about tak­ing away some­body’s de­cep­tion,” man­ager Buck Showal­ter said. “You go try­ing to smooth ev­ery­body out and you might not like the fin­ished prod­uct. … So that’s the dilemma a lot of times. They get to this level be­cause they have a lot of de­cep­tion. … Chris Till­man has an un­con­ven­tional de­liv­ery.

“That’s a chal­lenge for coaches. Some­times the best coach­ing you do is the coach­ing you don’t do. Some­times you need to shut up and get out of their way and live with the fin­ished prod­uct.”

Over Jimenez’s past four starts — his three since fill­ing in for Till­man, who re­turns from the dis­abled list Sun­day, and a spot start in a makeup game in Min­nesota on July 28 — he has a 2.70 ERA. How­ever, three of those four starts were against teams Jimenez has had suc­cess against. He owns sub-3.00 ERAs against the Twins, Washington Na­tion­als and Rays.

Showal­ter said this week that he will go with the hot hand while play­ing matchups upon Till­man’s re­turn. Jimenez is pitch­ing well, but Showal­ter ex­pect­ing sim­i­lar re­sults against a Tigers team that has bat­tered him in the past and is surg­ing in Septem­ber is some­what of a leap of faith. As for Jimenez, he said his time in the bullpen helped him to find his way through a dif­fi­cult sea­son.

“As a player, you never want” to get sent to the bullpen, Jimenez said. “You want to keep fight­ing through it. But I guess ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. That’s what I take from it. And in a pos­i­tive way, it did, be­cause it al­lowed me to get where I am right now.”

CHRIS O’MEARA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Starters: Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.19) vs. Tigers’ Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann (9-5, 4.44)

Starters: Chris Till­man (15-5, 3.76) vs. Tigers’ Justin Ver­lan­der (14-7, 3.28)

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