Af­ter lost sea­son on the mound, Jimenez has found his way again for Ori­oles

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY JA­COB FELD­MAN ja­cob.feld­man@wash­post.com

bal­ti­more — Man­ager Buck Showal­ter an­nounced Satur­day that pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez will start the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles’ first game af­ter the all-star break. It is another in­di­ca­tion of how valu­able the 31-year-old has been this year.

As of Satur­day, Jimenez led the Ori­oles’ ro­ta­tion with seven wins and boasted a staff-high wins above re­place­ment of 2.2, dou­ble that of closer Zach Brit­ton. He has the best ERA among Bal­ti­more starters, barely ahead of Wei-Yin Chen. When ad­justed for field­ing and luck, an even big­ger gap ap­pears.

Jimenez also has pro­vided con­sis­tency, go­ing at least five in­nings in each of his past nine starts for a team that ranked 27th in in­nings pitched by starters go­ing into Satur­day.

Mean­while, Jimenez has kept his team in the AL East hunt. The Ori­oles trailed the New York Yan­kees by three games be­fore Satur­day night’s game.

All Jimenez needed to find his prime form, it turns out, was a lost sea­son.

Af­ter sign­ing a $50 mil­lion con­tract with Bal­ti­more be­fore the 2014 sea­son, Jimenez did lit­tle to jus­tify that con­tract in his first year. He fin­ished 2014 with a 4.81 ERA, a ca­reer-high 5.5 walks per nine in­nings and a 1.52 walks plus hits per in­ning pitched, the sec­ond high­est he had posted since en­ter­ing the ma­jors in 2006.

Jimenez made things worse in July of that year when he sprained his an­kle in the park­ing lot out­side of his apart­ment. He posted a 7.84 ERA in two starts af­ter re­turn­ing in Au­gust and was sent to the bullpen.

It was there he re­mem­bered a sug­ges­tion given to him in May by Vice Pres­i­dent of Base­ball Oper­a­tions Brady An­der­son and echoed later by pitch­ing coach Dave Wal­lace. Both had told Jimenez he should not raise his hands so high dur­ing his de­liv­ery. That tech­nique had helped Jimenez be­come an all-star in Colorado and pitch a no-hitter there in 2010. Now that he was strug­gling and had time to tinker with fun­da­men­tals, Jimenez ex­per­i­mented with a new de­liv­ery.

“I came one day, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m get­ting rid of that,’ ” he said.

With the new ap­proach, Jimenez earned two wins and a hold in Septem­ber.

“That’s pretty much been it,” Jimenez said of the ad­just­ment. “I was hav­ing too much move­ment. I was go­ing way too far over the head, so with­out that, it al­lowed me to re­peat my de­liv­ery more con­sis­tently.”

He con­tin­ued fine-tun­ing his new style in spring train­ing with the help of newly added spe­cial as­sign­ment pitch­ing in­struc­tor Ra­mon Martinez, Pe­dro’s brother. Now Jimenez has gone from the worst walk rate of his ca­reer in 2014 to his best.

In April, Jimenez had a 1.59 ERA af­ter leav­ing the month with a 6.59 ERA in 2014.

Jimenez went 4- 0 in June as his team moved from five games back in the AL East on June 3 to lead­ing the di­vi­sion July 1.

In his fi­nal start of that month, Jimenez held Cleve­land score­less over eight in­nings. Third base man Manny Machado praised his pitcher af­ter­ward.

“He knows what he’s done in the past and how he didn’t do so well last year,” Machado said af­ter that game. “This year, he has a mind-set of ‘I want to show ev­ery­body who I am.’ He’s do­ing it. He’s show­ing who the real Ubaldo is.”

Jimenez has started twice since, pitch­ing 12 com­bined in­nings and giv­ing up just one earned run across those two starts.

“It’s been good,” Jimenez said of his first half. “I’ve been able to be con­sis­tent, giv­ing the team a chance to win ev­ery five days.”

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