By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Ubaldo Jimenez has absorbed a significant amount of criticism for a starter who has a winning record and a 3.79 ERA.
Maybe it’s because he was acquired for the Indians’ top pitching prospect in 2011 and never has come close to meeting the high expectations placed upon him.
Maybe it’s because this year, he seemed to sputter after five innings and had to be removed because of a high pitch count.
As for point No. 1, he didn’t ask to be traded to Cleveland. And point No. 2 has been a non-issue lately. Tuesday night, for example, he pitched six scoreless innings as the Tribe defeated the Orioles 4-3 at Progressive Field.
Asked about the miniscule crowd of 9,662, Jimenez said: “Of course, we notice. It’s not the same when there’s a big crowd compared to 9,000. A big crowd can get you going a little bit more. But what can we do?”
Jimenez has heard his share of booing from the home crowd the past 2› seasons, but the object of the fans’ wrath Tuesday night was closer Chris Perez, who gave up a three-run homer to Nate McLouth in the ninth.
There were few fans in the seats, but they reacted with the ferocity of several thousand more when McLouth’s drive sailed into the right-field seats.
But the boos turned to cheers as Perez struck out Brian Roberts and Manny Machado and retired Chris Davis — he of the 47-homer season so far — on a ground out.
It was Jimenez’s 10th victory of the season against nine losses. In his 27 starts, the Indians have won 16 times.
So how bad can he be? Certainly nothing like the bottom feeder he was last year, when Jimenez arguably was the most ineffective starter in the American League, with a 5.40 ERA. He led the league in two dubious categories, losses with 17 and wild pitches with 16.
“It was all about being 100 percent with my mechanics,” Jimenez said. “I’ve worked for two years to get them right. And [pitching coach] Mickey Callaway has been great. He’s been there for me every single day.”
Callaway made one or two suggestions that have made a huge difference in Jimenez’s command.
“I think you always have to give the player credit, especially a veteran willing to make changes,” manager Terry Francona said. “But Mickey deserves a ton of credit for developing a relationship with Ubaldo. I think Ubaldo really trusts Mickey, and he should.”
Jimenez limited the Orioles to four hits and two walks, while striking out four.
“It’s all about my fastball,” Jimenez said. “My velocity is up. I’m throwing the fastball then throwing the breaking ball off the fastball. Even if I go deeper into the game, I feel a little stronger.”
Jimenez got in trouble twice, the first time in the second inning, when Adam Jones led off with a single and advanced to third on Michael Morse’s one-out single. But Jimenez retired Nick Markakis on an infield pop fly and induced J.J. Hardy to fly to center.
Jimenez labored through the sixth inning after Roberts led off by lining out to Jason Kubel in right. Machado followed with a single, Davis walked, and one out later Matt Wieters walked to load the bases. But Jimenez got the last out on Morse’s weak come-backer to the mound.
Inasmuch as Jimenez threw only 90 pitches, Francona thought about leaving him in the game.
“Yeah, that was a thought,” the manager said. “But I wanted a clean inning for Cody [Allen].”
So in his past five starts, Jimenez has compiled a 2-3 record but a 2.32 ERA, averaging almost 6⅓ innings per outing. Why the anemic victory total to go with a stellar ERA?
August was the “Month of the Slump” for Tribe batsmen. So far, September has been much better. The Indians produced only five hits Tuesday night, but three came in the same inning plus two of five walks issued by Chris Tillman.
Going into the sixth, the Indians led 1-0, thanks to two walks, a sacrifice bunt and Asdrubal Cabrera’s sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Carlos Santana led off the sixth by drawing a walk and Michael Brantley doubled him to third. Cabrera delivered his second sacrifice fly of the game and moved Brantley to third before Kubel was walked intentionally.
That strategy backfired when Yan Gomes followed with a two-run double.
“They didn’t want Kubel to beat them; they walked him twice,” Francona said. “Gomes came up with the big hit. He’s developing into a very good player.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.