As Ubaldo Jimenez mowed down Blue Jays batter after Blue Jays batter on a cool Saturday night in April, you could see why the Orioles signed this guy in the first place. He had a scant few starts like that all of last year. He started the 2015 season off with a gem of a game and that will be the first impression anyone has of him all year. Things will be good in Birdland if Ubaldo can keep looking anything like the version of himself who showed up to face Toronto tonight.
While Ubaldo was working his magic, the Orioles hitters jumped on Jays starter Aaron Sanchez in the game's first inning and they kept scoring throughout the game, slugging their way to what eventually became a 7-1 victory.
Sanchez had a problem in the first inning. That problem was left-handed hitters. He gave up a solo home run to Alejandro De Aza to lead off the game. You can't get a better start than that. Sanchez then struck out Steve Pearce before giving up another solo home run, this time to Chris Davis, who muscled the ball over the fence to the opposite field. This was the big question with Davis. Would he have that opposite field power this year? Tonight he did, another good sign for the team's chances this year.
The Orioles had another major threat against Sanchez in the third inning. Three straight singles by De Aza, Pearce, and Davis gave them bases loaded with no one out. That's prime time to strike and do major damage. It's also prime time for Adam Jones to swing at the first pitch and ground into a double play. That plated the third Orioles run, even if nobody would get credit for the RBI.
While all of this was going on, Jimenez was putting the Jays hitters to shame. He was perfect through three innings, only giving up a leadoff hit in the fourth inning to Jose Reyes. This ball was very nearly caught by De Aza in left field. It bounced just in front of him instead. Reyes later walked in the sixth inning. No other Jays hitter reached base against Jimenez.
A second bases loaded, nobody out situation presented itself in the fifth inning. Jones led off with a single, then back-to-back walks to Travis Snider and Manny Machado loaded them up against Jays reliever Todd Redmond. When you get a pitcher like Redmond on the ropes, the only thing to do is knock him out. Jonathan Schoop obliged, crushing a mistake pitch from Redmond into the left field seats for a grand slam. That gave the Orioles a 7-0 lead.
When all was said and done, Jimenez left the game after seven innings of work. He only allowed one walk and one hit and he struck out eight Jays batters. They were off balance and never knew quite what to make of his pitches. He threw 96 pitches and 61 of them were strikes. He looked like a real starting pitcher.
Of course, it was only one start. He had good starts last year even in the midst of all of the awful ones: 7.1 shutout innings, ten strikeouts against the Twins tucked into a random game in May, 8 innings, no earned runs, eight strikeouts against the Rangers towards the end of June last year. This one only stands out right now because it was his first one. He needs to follow it up with more than this. He's certainly gotten off on the correct foot.
The O's picked up their seven runs on nine hits. Sure helps when you can get four runs in one swing. De Aza and Davis were both Orioles with multi-hit games. Snider had no hits but drew a pair of walks in four plate appearances, which actually lowered his on-base percentage to .550. As a team, the O's walked six times. I know, really!
Tommy Hunter pitched the eighth for the O's. The only baserunner he allowed came when he hit Russell Martin in the back with a pitch. This may have been something of a purpose pitch as Davis had been hit by Redmond earlier in the game. The situation did not escalate.
Toronto scored its only run off of Zach Britton in the ninth inning. Britton was getting an inning to keep him from getting too rusty, having not pitched since Wednesday. One run scored on two hits. A leadoff double by Steve Tolleson might have been corralled by Machado. Manny made it up to Britton later in the inning by pulling off this piece of defensive wizardry.
When you blow away a guy at high noon at the OK Corral, there's really only one thing to do.
Gun 'em down. #WelcomeBackBirds pic.twitter.com/U96GzDknUc— Orioles on MASN (@masnOrioles) April 12, 2015
I think Manny wants that Gold Glove back.
As bad as Bud Norris looked yesterday, Ubaldo looked that good today. Where can this team go if Ubaldo delivers what he was supposed to? Here's hoping we get to find out. He's off to a good start after baffling a dangerous Jays lineup.
The two teams will be back in action on Sunday afternoon at 1:35 to play the rubber game of the series. Chris Tillman gets the start for the O's, with Orioles nemesis Drew Hutchison taking the mound for the Jays.