BALTIMORE — Baltimore Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez will seek to extend his recent surge when he faces the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday.
With the 7-6 loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Orioles fell two games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. While the last-place Rays are looking at another offseason full of retooling, they have an opportunity to play spoiler over the final two weeks of the season.
"We’re playing well," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I don’t think we care about spoiler. We’re playing well and this is great learning experience for all of us in these environments. It seems like every one of those wins, there’s been really crucial parts of the game and we’re having some guys who are really coming through for us."
Baltimore will need to bounce back quickly with so many American League teams within striking distance of the two wild-card spots. Many of the players on the Orioles’ roster were on the postseason teams of 2012 and 2014 and that experience could serve them well.
"I don’t think you press as much compared to a team that might not be familiar with it," Orioles closer Zach Britton said about the final playoff push. "You go about your business every night. But if you win a series, you know the next series is just as important. You come down to the end here, every game is really important. We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves in here, which I think really helps us."
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is hoping some of its younger players can come up big and provide some optimism for 2017. Some of them are already impressing Cash.
"We knew coming into September, this was going to be a good time to evaluate some of our players," Cash said. "Right now, there are guys doing some good things, Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier, all of them are playing great for us offensively. That’s great to see."
Jimenez (7-11, 5.98 ERA) has been one of the Orioles’ best pitchers over the past month after losing his starting job. Jimenez went back in the rotation when Chris Tillman went on the disabled list. From there, Jimenez has thrived and has helped the playoff push.
In his last outing against the Tigers, Jimenez allowed two runs on four hits with three walks and four strikeouts to pick up his second straight win. Jimenez has a 2.83 ERA in his past four starts.
"It feels great to finally be able to be there for the team, since it wasn’t going the way I wanted it at first," Jimenez said. "That is the beauty of life and this game — every day is a new day. You can’t give up and you have to find a way to keep fighting."
The Rays will look to fare better against Jimenez than the previous time they faced him. On Sept. 5, Ubaldo pitched a complete game in Baltimore’s 7-3 win.
"Basically, we saw Ubaldo get in a comfort zone," Cash said. "I talked about it after the game. I saw him do that with the Indians. Once he feels he can throw, he’s got four or five different pitches and changes speeds with all of them. It’s basically, here it is, hit it approach. That’s what he did. There was just a ton of soft contact."
The Rays will counter with Chris Archer, who has struggled over parts of the season and is trying to avoid a 20-loss season. Archer (8-18, 4.05) took a hard-luck loss in his previous outing when he allowed three runs on four hits over seven innings in a 5-1 loss to the Yankees.
Archer is fourth in the American League with 217 strikeouts. He could possibly join the Angels’ Nolan Ryan (1976) as the only two pitchers to lead the American League in both losses and strikeouts in the same season.
"The New York game, that was an unbelievable start," Cash said. "He gave up back-to-back homers. I know you’re going to lose games like that, and you have to prevent that from happening. We’ll take that start from Arch for 35 of them."