CLEVELAND -- The Orioles have been riding a high the past two months, playing the kind of dangerously hot baseball that has resulted in a commanding lead in the American League East, and eight consecutive series wins coming into this weekend's set.
Most of their problems over that stretch? Minor quibbles. Except in the case of Ubaldo Jimenez.
The organization's largest commitment in history to a free-agent pitcher, Jimenez continued a disappointing campaign in allowing six runs over 4 1/3 innings in the O's 6-0 loss to the Indians on Saturday night at Progressive Field. The defeat again raises the question of whether the Orioles' best rotation includes the 4-9 Jimenez, who has posted a 4.83 ERA in 20 starts.
"If something like that was going to change, he'd hear it from me first, obviously," manager Buck Showalter said when asked if Jimenez would get another start. "We are always going to look at putting our best foot out here. We know that Miguel [Gonzalez] has a chance to come back to us on Tuesday, and we've got some off-days there. We'll see. We'll take a step back, [pitching coach] Dave [Wallace] and I and see what direction we want to go with it."
Unfortunately for Jimenez, things went south quick Saturday night. The 30-year-old right-hander, who spent 2 1/2 seasons with Cleveland before leaving as a free agent this winter, said there wouldn't be any added emotion in going back to Progressive Field. Instead, Jimenez's shortened start -- which had flashes of dominance -- invoked an all-too-familiar feeling and culminated with the O's first back-to-back losses since June 28-29.
"It's difficult, because you know it is in there," catcher Caleb Joseph said of the inconsistent Jimenez, who issued two walks to start the game and Carlos Santana's three-run homer. "And you want to try and call pitches that kind of get him back on track. You try as best as you can to get him back on track.
"But at the end of the day, he's the one with the ball. And you are just trying to facilitate him throwing strikes. And like I said, when he does that, he does a good job for us. We are going to need him to throw strikes. It's in there. We believe in him. He'll be better."
Whether Jimenez will even get the chance remains to be seen, with Gonzalez -- who has pitched well for the Orioles this season -- waiting in the Minor Leagues.
Asked if he felt his rotation spot was in jeopardy, Jimenez said it's not a decision that's up to him and he will continue to prepare for his next outing and try to keep a positive outlook.
"I've been here. I've been through a lot in my career," said Jimenez, who exited after allowing Michael Brantley's two-run homer in the fifth. "I've been at the top, I've been at the bottom. ... That's something I put in my mind; you have to forget about what happened, you have get ready for the next one. It doesn't matter how much time you have left, you have to give it everything you have."
From the home dugout, the Indians were well aware that they had to strike when Jimenez -- who retired 11 of 12 from the end of the first through the fourth -- was struggling.
"You know, he's so hard to get a bead on," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "There's a lot of moving parts and there's so much deception. He can throw any pitch any time, so you take the runs when you can get [them] because you don't want to leave him off the hook."
Jimenez's outing -- coupled with another rough night for the offense -- shrank the O's (69-52) lead to 6 1/2 games in the AL East and puts them at just one run scored over the first 20 innings of the series. A Baltimore lineup that busted out 41 runs over its recent five-game homestand, had no answer for Indians starter Carlos Carrasco over his seven innings.
"Those guys are really good," Joseph said of the Tribe's rotation. "[Corey] Kluber is probably one of the hottest pitchers in all of baseball, and the guy tonight was really good. Any time you've got a guy above 94, 95 with command, you've got to really put together quality at-bats, and they did their job."
Lefty T.J. McFarland replaced Jimenez and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings, and Brad Brach and Tommy Hunter took over to combine for two scoreless frames to provide a bright spot in the loss.
"Even though we expect the best every time we go out there, it isn't always going to happen," Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. "We battled, we did our best. And it wasn't our day."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.