What a world: Orioles are in first place and Ubaldo Jimenez has been their ace

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Ubaldo Jimenez was so bad last season that the Orioles basically did everything they could to avoid relying on him in the rotation just months after signing him to a four-year, $50 million contract as a free agent.

However, this offseason he talked extensively about hoping to get healthy after lots of nagging injuries and making an effort to revamp his mechanics with the coaching staff. Whatever he did, it’s been working.

Jimenez shut out the Indians for eight innings Sunday, improving to 7-3 and lowering his ERA to 3.09 with an 89/27 K/BB ratio in 87 innings that represents by far the best mark of his career. He’s been the Orioles’ best starting pitcher this season, which is a statement that would have sounded insane last year.

Sunday’s gem included seven strikeouts and zero walks. It was the third time this season he’s walked zero batters in a start and he’s walked three or fewer batters in 14 of his 15 outings. By comparison, last year Jimenez failed to have a single zero-walk start and walked three or fewer batters in just 13 of 22 outings.

Jimenez’s raw stuff hasn’t changed. His average fastball of 90.5 miles per hour is the exact same as last season and his off-speed stuff has similar velocities to 2014 as well. But he’s trusted that raw stuff far more, cutting his walk rate in half from 5.5 to 2.8 per nine innings while maintaining a strikeout rate near his norm of around one per inning. And in doing so he’s gone from a signing the Orioles immediately regretted to sitting atop the rotation for a first-place team.