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Ubaldo Jimenez pitches well and the Orioles still lose, 4-0

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The Orioles were expected to lose this game. They did lose this game... just in an unexpected way.

You had already written off Thursday’s Orioles game in Washington as soon as you heard that Ubaldo Jimenez would be starting against Max Scherzer. Surely the game became even more of a write-off after the Orioles won the first three games of the series. It’s hard to win four in a row against the same team, especially with two of those games on the road.

Sure enough, the Orioles lost the game. Due to the arcana of baseball’s staid old stats like pitcher wins and losses, Jimenez even gets credited with the loss. But if you weren’t watching the game, you might be quite surprised to find out that Jimenez actually turned in a quality start, and not a bare minimum quality start, either.

Jimenez pitched six innings and left with only a 1-0 deficit. He pitched so well - he didn’t even walk anyone, and no, I’m not kidding! - that I will find it understandable if you start talking yourself into Jimenez making the next start on this turn in the rotation. The team that Jimenez faced tonight is not one with a pathetic offense. They have some good players and he did well against them over six innings.

It’s German for “pitcher who destroys”

Unfortunately, although Jimenez pitched well, there was still the other part of that equation to factor in. Scherzer is no slouch. The guy didn’t win a Cy Young by accident, and although that was three years ago, he’s kept pitching at a high level ever since. Scherzer is striking out approximately everyone in the world and he has a sub-1.00 WHIP as a starter, which is impressive even in the National League.

Chances against Jimenez were few for Washington: He only allowed five hits. The lone run he allowed was a Jayson Werth home run blasted to deep center for the first pitch of the fourth inning. Jimenez was doubly impressive for not walking a batter because, as the strike zone maps show, fully one in ten pitches that Jimenez threw in the game was a strike that was mistakenly called a ball by home plate umpire Lance Barksdale.

The problem is that chances against Scherzer were fewer. The Orioles only had two hits in the eight innings Scherzer was in the game. They too did not draw any walks, which is less surprising. Scherzer struck out ten batters, also not very surprising.

For a very brief point in time, there was hope. Once it was clear that Scherzer was coming out of the game after the eighth inning despite throwing only 95 pitches (consider: Tanner Roark was yesterday pressed to 111 pitches in only five innings), visions of the deserved ninth inning comeback - deserved as a reward to the crazy manager who lifted Scherzer - could dance in our heads.

The ninth that might have been

That was not to be. Orioles manager Buck Showalter pursued a strategy that I can only conclude was more or less always planned to leave the game in the hands of lesser pitchers, a strategy that, since it was likely to give rest to tired or ailing guys, he was not willing to alter even in the face of a close, potentially winnable game.

To wit, Showalter summoned recent call-up Logan Ondrusek for the seventh inning. That was fine. Ondrusek pitched a scoreless seventh. Then he came out for the eighth. Ah, but why? Three batters later, Ondrusek had given up two singles and a double and the Orioles were losing, 2-0, with no one out and two men in scoring position.

Batted ball luck and fielding choices come into play here. The second single, hit by Werth, ricocheted off the mound before heading into center field. The ball bounces a little differently and it’s a double play.

Once Werth was on base, first baseman Chris Davis was not holding him tight to the bag. Daniel Murphy’s double snuck down the first base line, out of the reach of a diving Davis. If Davis holds Werth, or plays the line closer with a lefty at the plate, that’s a double play too. Davis didn’t, and it wasn’t. So Ondrusek looked bad and came out of the game and in came Mike Wright.

There’s little to say about Wright except that he did his best Luis Ayala impersonation. The first batter Wright faced was Bryce Harper, who doubled in Werth and Murphy, neatly plating both inherited runners. Wright then went on to retire the next three batters so there was no damage to his own ERA.

That once-promising 1-0 deficit ballooned to 4-0. Perhaps it would have been better to have Wright start a fresh inning, but maybe Showalter was really hoping to save Wright as a long man for tomorrow, until the game slipped from Ondrusek.

When any other reliever looks better

You might have also rather seen any of Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, or Brad Brach. Or, for that matter, Zach Britton - making the necessity of using him in Wednesday’s game all the worse. Things just didn’t work out to where one of those guys was going to pitch.

The ninth inning began with Hyun Soo Kim pinch hitting in the pitcher’s spot. He hit a double to deep center that nearly cleared the center field wall. That was the Orioles third, and last, hit of the game. Kim moved up to third on a groundout but did not score. The Orioles were shut out.

In the sense that we expected the Orioles to lose beforehand and they did in fact, lose, there’s not much to be angry about with the game. But they sure did arrive at that loss in a way there was no expecting, which proved to be quite frustrating.

The good news is that both the Blue Jays and Red Sox lost on Thursday, so the Orioles lose no ground. The bad news is that they missed a chance to pull up into a three way tie atop the division. The Tigers won Thursday and the Mariners are presently leading, so both could end the night two games back of the second wild card spot that the O’s currently hold.

Next up is a trip to New York for three games against the Yankees. The Friday opener at the standard civilized baseball time of 7:05 will see Yovani Gallardo start against Luis Cessa of the Yankees. The game will hopefully produce a cessation of the Orioles losing.