Making his first appearance of spring training against a visiting Atlanta Braves squad that was light on big-league experience, Jimenez didn’t last long, retiring just one of the seven Braves hitters he faced. He allowed three hits and three walks before getting yanked with one out in the top of the first inning.
“We were hoping to get two [innings] out of him,” said manager Buck Showalter after the game. “He just happened to get in his pitch count in one inning.”
Well, technically, it was a third of an inning, but who’s counting? Apparently, not Jimenez.
“You never want to go out there and give up five runs like I did today, but there’s things that are more important,” said the 32-year old righty, who last season was part of a Baltimore rotation that posted a 4.53 ERA (second-highest in the American League). “And that’s working on the things that you need to.”
Jimenez said that the plan for his inaugural outing was to work on his changeup and curveball, both of which have become forgotten pitches for him as he’s become increasingly reliant on his split-fingered fastball. Last season, the change and curve accounted for just 8 percent of the 3,060 pitches that Jimenez threw. By comparison, in 2010, when he had his best season in the bigs and finished third in the Cy Young voting, those two pitches represented 17 percent of his offerings.
Meanwhile, his splitter usage has increased from 6 percent back in 2010 to 17 percent last year.
Although the splitter has been effective for Jimenez -- last year, opponents swung and missed 36 percent of the time and posted an anemic .600 OPS against it -- his change and curve have been much more hittable: In 2015, he allowed a combined .900 OPS on the changeup and curve, with a swing-and-miss rate of 18 percent. Hence, the concerted effort to work on both pitches Wednesday.
“He told me before the game that he didn't want to throw any sliders or splits,” said catcher Matt Wieters. “It’s kind of refreshing to see a guy who knows what his plan is going into the game and even when the situation got hairy, he stuck with that plan. That tells me what his mindset is, that this is the starting point, not the finish line.”
It also helps explain why, despite getting knocked around (he said that two of the three hits he allowed came on the changeup), Jimenez was upbeat afterward.
“Mechanically, I felt pretty good,” he said. “I was really close to the zone. Looking forward to my next one.”
As for his manager, he’s focused a little further out on the calendar.
“I might throw out the second one too depending on the conditions and what happens,” said Showalter. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to it right now. What I’m most interested in is his first start in Baltimore, because that’s when it starts. My most interest is when the bell rings.”