Ubaldo Jimenez struggled mightily last night, which set the tone for the Baltimore Orioles’ 15-5 loss in Tampa. Jimenez’s line: 2.1 IP, 2.1 IP, 7 H, 9 R, 4 BB, 1 K. Jimenez flat out didn’t have it, as he gave up four runs in the first and third innings, and one in the second. In a sense, the game was over before it got going.
However without going into too much detail about the game itself, there’s one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of these lopsided losses. At some point along the way, the Orioles have turned into nibblers on the mound. And this is nothing new; the Birds have had several nibblers over the years, including the likes of Ponson, Lopez, and others. It’s just been awhile.
In a way, it’s not overly surprising. These days it seems that regardless of what Oriole pitchers throw out there is getting hit. Many of those pitches are getting hit hard…and far. However not all of them. Opposing hitters seem to have a knack for placing balls just perfectly so as to avoid Oriole gloves. Ultimately, guys are getting on base and that’s costing the Orioles runs on defense.
Trying to nibble on the corners is probably natural when you’re going through a spell like which the O’s are going through. The idea being that if you don’t throw the ball right down broadway, odds are they can’t hit it out of the ballpark. That, or if it’s just touching the black enough to be in the zone, maybe the hitter will see it as outside and let it go for a called strike.
The problem is that other teams know this. They know that the Orioles are struggling on all facets, and even in some instances through no fault of their own. Keep in mind that they’re without Hardy, Flaherty, Davis, and Britton right now. When your depth suddenly finds itself in the starting lineup, you aren’t going to be the same team. But that aside, opponents know that Oriole pitchers are nibbling on the corners. And they’re either letting those pitches go for balls, or…
…they’re hitting them. Because guess what? Pitches on the fringes of the plate aren’t necessarily going for homers, however they can be tapped into play. All of those bloop singles that fall just in front of outfielders, or grounders that just get by an infielder’s mitt? Those were on pitches that nibbled on the corners.
So yes, in a sense Oriole pitchers are afraid to make a mistake. But that fear is eating the team alive. And it doesn’t just manifest itself in pitch selection. A hitter gets a base hit or a walk with two outs when the O’s were already mentally back in the dugout, and suddenly a wild pitch gets uncorked because the pitcher’s trying too hard not to make a mistake…out of fear. And that leads to a mistake, which sets an inning up nicely for an opponent.
The only cure for this is in essence to throw youself out there and throw strikes. The Orioles need to get back to the power pitching that we’ve seen over the past few seasons. Because nibbling on the corners and in essence pitching from behind before the guy even steps in the box isn’t working for anyone…except opponents.