CLEVELAND: The odds were astronomical that the Kansas City Royals would continue to lose night after night. So after finishing second 12 times in a row, the team responsible for four of those defeats succumbed itself.
That would be the Indians, who fell 8-2 Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Believe it or not, Ubaldo Jimenez delivered his most professional pitching performance in three starts, even though he gave up four runs on two two-run homers.
Maybe it’s what he didn’t do that stood out, like not walking the house and avoiding running every count to 3-and-1 and 3-and-2. Of course, baseball is a bottom-line business, and allowing four runs in six innings isn’t the goal. It is not even a quality start — three or fewer runs in six innings — which works out to a 4.50 ERA. Consequently, this was not a night to throw roses at Jimenez.
“Ubaldo was just OK,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He started slow, he threw too many pitches, and he wasn’t missing enough bats.”
Jimenez started on a pessimistic note, walking the game’s leadoff batter, Chris Getz, and one out later, Billy Butler took his 2-and-1 pitch out of the yard. Eric Hosmer and Jeff Francoeur followed with singles, and everyone in the ballpark is thinking, “Here he goes again.” But Jimenez escaped without allowing another run by inducing Mike Moustakas to hit a foul fly to the first baseman and retiring Humberto Quintero on a pop fly to the shortstop.
The Royals couldn’t do much with Jimenez (2-1, 4.50 ERA) until the fifth, when Alex Gordon singled, because Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera watched each other as Gordon’s ground ball bounced between them. With two outs, Hosmer homered to give the Royals a 4-0 advantage.
“What we preach is that you collide,” Acta said, speaking figuratively. “You don’t look at each other and let the ball drop. That one cost us, because it came before the home run. We’re not going to beat people around every night. We have to take care of those 27 outs. We can’t give outs away.”
This was one of those times when it could legitimately be said that Jimenez threw only two bad pitches, at least two bad pitches that hurt him. On the other hand, a stickler for pitching purity probably would say the walk to Getz preceding Butler’s home run was a lethal mistake.
Either way, Jimenez was charged with six hits, three walks and one wild pitch in six innings. He threw 113 pitches (64 for strikes), which speaks to Jimenez’s continuing inefficiency and ensured that he wasn’t coming out for the seventh to throw another 15 or 20.
“Ubaldo needs to throw more first-pitch strikes,” Acta said. “Not just him but everybody. He’s not doing that very consistently, but he has been accountable.”
Jimenez was keenly aware of his deficiencies.
“I’ve been throwing too many pitches, but I thought tonight I was better than my last two games,” he said. “I was able to control my breaking ball, and my fastball command got better as the game went on.”
How can Jimenez fix what’s broken?
“I need to try to repeat my delivery and be consistent with my mechanics,” he said.
But Jimenez has an unconventional delivery that is difficult to replicate pitch after pitch, inning after inning.
“I’m too old to change my mechanics,” he said. “It would be like trying to start over from the beginning. That would be just too hard.”
Through the fifth inning, Luke Hochevar (2-1, 4.98 ERA) yielded only three hits, two in the first inning, when Carlos Santana helped kill a rally by getting caught in a rundown between first and second after his single. Including the final out of the first inning, Hochevar retired 13 out of 14 batters through the fifth.
“I thought Hochevar threw a very good game,” Acta said. “He had a good back-door breaking ball to left-handers, and he ran a cutter in on their hands. He made good pitches today. That’s how you get out of a losing streak, with a well-pitched game.”
Finally in the sixth, the Tribe eked out a run on Michael Brantley’s single, walks to Asdrubal Cabrera and Santana plus Travis Hafner’s RBI force out, on which Hosmer made an outstanding play to flag down a smash to the left of first base.
When Hochevar walked Jason Kipnis with one out in the seventh, he was lifted for newcomer Tommy Hotovy, who hit Casey Kotchman and gave up an RBI single to Aaron Cunningham, making Hochevar responsible for both runs.
Jairo Asencio pitched the ninth inning for the Tribe and turned the game into a rout, giving up a three-run homer to Alex Gordon and Butler’s second homer of the game, a solo blast.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.