TORONTO — Ubaldo Jimenez came into Thursday night’s game with just two wins on the season and a bloated 7.26 earned-run average.
A clinical performance from the Orioles right-hander — eight shutout innings in Baltimore’s 2-0 win — showed the Blue Jays why they can’t judge a pitcher off his numbers alone.
“You go into this game thinking Ubaldo Jimenez is throwing, statistically the worst pitcher in baseball. But he comes out and he throws the way he does,” said Kevin Pillar, one of only two Blue Jays to get a hit off Jimenez all night.
“That’s what makes this game so tough. You can’t necessarily play the game according to the numbers. That’s a big league pitcher out there who’s had a lot of success in his career. … It makes it tough when a guy doesn’t have any consistent patterns out there.”
Caleb Joseph drove in a run for Baltimore (39-39), Jonathan Schoop hit a sacrifice fly and Brad Brach pitched the ninth to earn his 15th save of the season.
Jimenez (3-3) struck out eight batters and walked one while improving to 8-5 in his career against the Blue Jays.
A pair of two-out doubles — one from Ryan Goins in the third inning and another from Pillar in the eighth — were his only blemishes. Russell Martin added a single for the Jays (37-41) off Brach in the ninth.
Jimenez was just as good Thursday as he was in his last start against Toronto on Sept. 29, 2016, when he pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings while surrendering just one hit at Rogers Centre.
“Some guys are like that so you know automatically he’s going to be confident coming in,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of the Orioles starter. “He did a nice job, that was a big part of it.”
J.A. Happ (2-5) was the hard-luck loser, allowing two runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out two while surpassing his loss total from all of last season.
“Early in the game I felt really strong, I thought I was getting some early outs, keeping the pitch count down,” said Happ, who missed six weeks earlier this season with an elbow injury. “Any time you keep any team in this league, especially in this division, in the ballpark you give yourself a chance to win so overall I felt pretty good about it.”
The Orioles first got on the board in the third inning as Schoop drove in Ruben Tejada from third base with a sac fly to left-centre field.
Happ bounced back with a five-pitch fourth inning that saw him retire all three batters on ground-ball outs, then he worked around a two-out walk in the fifth to keep the Jays in the game.
But Baltimore tacked on another run in the sixth to extend its lead to 2-0 when Joseph, inserted into the starting lineup just before the game in place of an injured Welington Castillo (left knee sprain), drove in Adam Jones from second base with a single.
A defensive gem from Pillar kept the leadoff man from reaching in the seventh. The Toronto centre-fielder sprinted toward the fence to track down a Tejada fly ball and caught it as he crashed full speed into the non-padded scoreboard portion of the wall.
After the game Pillar joked that it felt like he was ”checking someone” into the Plexiglas.
“Hockey reference, you know?” Pillar said.
“J.A was throwing so good you want to do everything you can to help keep him in the game, keep our team in the game,” he added. ”That’s what I was able to do.”
Happ called the catch “unbelievable.”
“Incredible, just no regard for his body at all,” he said. “We almost get used to that but it’s fun to watch for sure.”
Happ’s night ended when he allowed a single to the next batter, but Dominic Leone got a strikeout and diving catch from Ezequiel Carrera in left field to end the inning.
Toronto threatened briefly in the eighth when Pillar hit a two-out double deep to right field. But Manny Machado caught a foul pop up from Goins to end the inning.
The Blue Jays continue their home stand with a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox starting Friday. Happ said that while the team is frustrated with Thursday’s loss, there’s little time to mull it over.
“It’s not for lack of trying or lack of work,” Happ said. “I think it’s going to come and we know it needs to come soon. We may be frustrated but we’ve got Boston coming in tomorrow and we’ve got to get back to work.”