When Dan Duquette signed Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz to contracts late in the off season, it's possible that this is the kind of game he envisioned he'd see as a result. After five disappointing starts to begin 2014, Jimenez finally put together a fantastic game, pitching into the eighth inning with 10 strikeouts. Supporting him offensively was Nelson Cruz, who absolutely crushed a baseball into the third deck at Target Field. It all added up to the Orioles third win in a row.
The starting pitchers for this game were Jimenez for the Orioles and Ricky Nolasco for the Twins. Both started the game with ERAs of nearly 7 and have been knocked around repeatedly. So naturally this was a low scoring game that saw one pitcher give up zero runs and the other pitcher go nine full innings.
It looked like the Orioles were going to take a lead in this game in the first inning, but they were thwarted by some sweet defense. With Nick Markakis on first base via single, Manny Machado absolutely smoked a ball to straight away center field. It looked like an easy double, but Twins center fielder Sam Fuld raced back to make an outstanding play, crashing into the wall to steal the hit away. It was unfortunate for the O's scoring chances, but wonderful to see Manny put a sweet swing on the ball and really drive it.
The O's got on the board with their first run (and really, the only run they ended up needing) in the fourth inning, courtesy of the team's two hottest players, and a misplay in the outfield by the Twins. Cruz hit a line drive to left field that Jason Kubel probably should have caught. It bounced off of his glove and Cruz ended up on second base with a double. Two batters later, Matt Wieters hit a much more legit double that bounced over the head of Fuld in center field. Cruz scored easily.
Two innings later, the O's added two more runs. Machado led off the inning with a line drive to left field that went over the head of Kubel and bounced off the wall. He was held to a single, his first hit of 2014. Manny had a sweet smile in response to the hit, and after looking a little lost at the plate yesterday, his timing looking good tonight.
Machado's single set the table for the monster hit of the night off the bat of Nelson Cruz. Cruz demolished a fastball from Nolasco that caused play-by-play guy Jim Hunter to say matter of factly, "that's gone" the second it left his bat. When it landed, it was in the third deck. Cruz has done a lot to endear himself to the Orioles fan base, and this just strengthened his case.
This offense was all in support of Jimenez, who pitched one of the finest games we've seen from an Oriole all year. He gave up a cheap single to lead off the first inning but then retired six straight before creating a mini-jam for himself in the third inning. Fuld singled and Jimenez walked Eduardo Escobar to put two runners on with no outs. I prepared myself for the Ubaldo that we've been watching all season, but that Ubaldo never arrived. He got out of the inning by striking out the next three batters. No biggie.
That kicked off a stretch of eight batters in a row retired before Escobar reached on a fielding error by Jonathan Schoop with two outs in the fifth inning. Jimenez was unfazed and struck out Brian Dozier to end the inning.
After 1-2-3 sixth and seventh innings, it was somewhat of a surprise to see Jimenez come back out for the eighth. He was well over 100 pitches, but the bullpen was still recovering from yesterday's doubleheader and Jimenez had been cruising. He got the first out in the eighth but then gave up his hardest hit ball of the day on double by Escobar. That was it for him, but what a game it was. Zach Britton came in to relieve him and quickly got two outs to end the inning.
Jimenez's final line was 7 1/3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K. He threw 118 pitches and had a swoon worthy 12/3 ground ball to fly ball ratio. One of those fly balls was a pop up to Steve Pearce in foul territory, and the other two came in the eighth inning. The only disappointing thing about Jimenez's game was his complete inability to hold runners. When runners did get on, they ran. He gave up three stolen bases in which the runners got such good jumps that Wieters didn't even bother throwing. They didn't come back to haunt him, but that won't always be the case.
With a three run lead going into the ninth inning, Tommy Hunter came in to get the save. He pitched in both games yesterday, so it was a little surprising. Hunter gave up a lead off double to scare us all, but then struck out two and induced a ground ball to second base to end the game.
The Orioles and Twins will be back in action tomorrow at 2 p.m. Wei-Yin Chen is scheduled to pitch for the Orioles with Kevin Correia going for the Twins. To get you through until tomorrow's game, I suggest you watch this a few times.