The Orioles played the penultimate game of their spring training schedule on Friday evening, taking a close 3-2 contest against the Braves. There is only one more of these fake games left and then the next Orioles game will be a real game. In about 66 hours, the games will count again and everything will matter.
In the MASN commercials hyping the broadcast of this game - it is one of the half dozen or so that they actually televised out of the Grapefruit League schedule - they drew attention to the fact that Ubaldo Jimenez would be starting by asking the viewer, "Will Ubaldo pitch well this year?" Yes, MASN, that is indeed what we'd all like to know. The commercial's answer to this was, "Spring will tell," an assertion they can safely make because whether it's right or wrong, no one will ultimately care.
If we were willing to indulge the commercial that spring will tell for Ubaldo's performance in the regular season, his performance in tonight's game was about as much as you could hope for. At first it didn't seem that way, because nothing ever comes easy. Jimenez gave up a single to leadoff batter Eric Young Jr. and then gave up a double to Jace Peterson. He was trailing 1-0 before he ever recorded an out. Not a promising beginning.
From there, however, Ubaldo avoided the full-on meltdown. He gave up a one-out walk but escaped the first inning without any further damage being done. In fact, after the Peterson double, Jimenez went on to retire 12 of the next 14 batters he faced, including 1-2-3 innings in both the third and fourth frames. He came out of the game after pitching only four innings, but this was by design rather than due to an elevated pitch count. Jimenez threw 61 pitches in getting through four innings - 43 of them were strikes.
There was a brief scare as Ubaldo was hit in the foot or ankle by a comebacker in the second inning. He stayed in the game, though O's reporters indicated that he had the ankle iced after the game. Perhaps that contributed to his early exit as well. In four innings of work, Jimenez struck out five batters, giving up one run on three hits and a walk. He looked like a real pitcher.
Over the whole game, O's pitchers only allowed five total hits. The other two Braves hits came in the eighth inning against Tommy Hunter, who allowed the Braves' second run when former Oriole Kelly Johnson drove in Young, who led off the inning with a double.
Orioles hitters only mustered seven hits in the game, though they helped their own chances to generate offense by also taking three walks. More than half of those hits came in the second inning of the game. Travis Snider and Manny Machado led off the bottom of the second with back-to-back singles, with Snider coming in to score on another RBI single by the next batter after Machado. A fielder's choice got Machado to third, where he scored the O's second run on an RBI sacrifice fly from Caleb Joseph.
Alejandro De Aza also singled in the inning, and when Steve Pearce was hit in the back by a breaking ball that never broke, the O's actually had the bases loaded. With only two outs, they needed a hit, but instead they got a Chris Davis groundout.
De Aza brought in the third O's run of the game with a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. That put the O's up 3-1 at that point, and the three runs held for the rest of the way. The home run was De Aza's third of the spring.
A total of six O's relievers worked in the game. Brad Brach, Jason Garcia, and Zach Britton all pitched a scoreless inning each. Garcia was the only one of this trio to even allow a baserunner. He threw an inside pitch that grazed Jonny Gomes' forearm. I'm sure it still hurt. Brian Matusz pitched two-thirds of an inning, with Darren O'Day getting a third of an inning.
Whether the O's will keep Garcia is a question that remains to be answered. He didn't give them a reason to get rid of him in tonight's game.
The O's also set a record for average per game attendance since their move to Sarasota. They drew an average of 7,484 fans to their 15 spring home games, topping the previous record by 30 fans per game. Hey, a record is a record.
The Orioles and Braves will play one last spring game at the Braves complex tomorrow afternoon beginning at 3:05 in the afternoon Eastern time. The game will not be televised but will be on both the Orioles Radio Network and the Braves Radio Network. Not many O's regulars are expected to make the trip.