Ubaldo Jimenez is making it harder and harder to question that he has sorted out the pitching problems that plagued him through his first two years in a Cleveland Indians uniform.
Behind perhaps the best outing of his Indians career, Cleveland silenced the Tampa Bay offense and had some Saturday afternoon fireworks as they blanked the Rays, 5-0.
The scoreless effort marks the eighth shutout of the season for Indians pitching. By comparison, they had just six shutouts all of last year.
The scoring started with the big bat of Jason Giambi, who pushed two runs across the plate in the bottom of the second.
Nick Swisher started the frame with a great at bat against Rays starter and former Indians farmhand, Chris Archer. After falling behind in the count, 1-2, Swisher worked the count full and drew a walk. Giambi stepped to the plate and, after a pair of fastballs to push the count to 2-1, he drilled a changeup over the wall in right field to give the Indians an early 2-0 lead.
The home run for Giambi was his fifth of the season. He has now homered in three straight games. Nine of his 14 hits on the season have been for extra bases.
Giambi contributed again in the bottom half of the very next inning. Jason Kipnis doubled to left with one out and advanced to third on a ground out by Asdrubal Cabrera. Swisher drew his second consecutive walk before Giambi lined a fastball to right-center for a single. Kipnis scored easily and Swisher advanced to third, increasing the Tribe advantage to 3-0.
“He’s just a great man. He has a great heart,” said Swisher about his long-time teammate Giambi. “And to see him going out and doing what he’s doing right now…everybody in this locker room couldn’t be more happy for him. That guy gives the greatest hugs on the planet. He hits a home run and he’s picking up everyone else in the dugout.”
“We are really happy to have him.”
Kipnis and Cabrera teamed up again in the fifth to create more runs for their sharp starter. Kipnis led off the inning with a single to right. Cabrera fouled off a fastball, then drove a changeup over the wall in right for his fifth home run of the year, giving the Indians a 5-0 lead.
A line drive single by Swisher that nearly hit Archer (0-1) ended the afternoon for the Rays starter just one batter later. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits over the four-plus innings he worked. He walked three and struck out four.
“That kid has got a big future,” said Giambi about Archer. “I’m just glad we won today.”
Jimenez (4-3), meanwhile, was dealing. After giving up an infield single to Luke Scott, he retired eleven straight batters before giving up another infield single in the top of the sixth, this time to Yunel Escobar. He remained unaffected, quickly retiring the Rays 2-3-4 hitters.
“The biggest guy is Ubaldo,” said Giambi. “He was the guy who made it all happen. He went out there and he started pounding the strike zone and getting guys out and that was a huge lift for us to see that he could come out there like that. We really needed it.”
The Tribe’s starting pitcher finished his afternoon after throwing eight innings. He struck out seven batters, including the final batter he faced on his 108th pitch of the game. He walked just one batter on the day and threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes.
“I’m delirious right now. I feel like Pinocchio with no strings,” said Giambi. “It was unbelievable. We knew both teams would be exhausted and we played a big game, especially after last night.”
Swisher and Mike Aviles were both on base three different times in the game.
“He [Swisher] has always been that guy,” said Giambi. “That is what he does best. He gets his walk, works counts, lets everybody behind him see pitches which is huge coming in to face a guy you’ve never faced before.”
The Indians lead the American League in scoring runs with two outs, both with runners on base or with runners in scoring position.
Prior to the game, the Indians made a roster move, adding reliever Matt Langwell to the 25-man roster from Columbus. Scott Barnes, who was hit hard Friday night into Saturday morning, was optioned back to Triple-A. This is the first appearance on the Major League roster for Langwell, who was 2-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 20 games at Columbus.
Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 5.61) will start Sunday for Tampa Bay. He was roughed up a bit in his last outing, allowing five earned runs against Miami.
Zach McAllister (4-4, 3.08) will take center stage for Cleveland. He gave up three runs in his last start, a loss against Cincinnati. He has been easily one of the most reliable pitchers on the Indians pitching staff so far this season.
First pitch in the final matchup of the season between the two clubs is scheduled for 1:05 PM. Follow the action live on Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio or on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images