Drama was swirling around the Orioles today when it was first reported by The Virginian-Pilot that right-handed pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne had left the Triple-A Norfolk Tides and was on his way to join the Orioles in Boston.
Immediately, the Ubaldo Jimenez watch was on.
False alarm. Well, sort of. To make room for Despaigne, swing man/long man Vance Worley was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to Monday. And Jimenez, the Orioles’ high-priced, tremendously struggling veteran starter, has been moved to the bullpen, as manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Boston.
It’s bad news for Orioles’ fans, and I’m not talking about just the ones with the pitchforks in — and now idle time on — their hands.
I’m talking about anyone who understands exactly what Worley, who was 2-0 and had a 2.66 ERA in 17 games (two starts) for the Orioles this year, meant to the pitching staff so far. To do what Worley has been asked to do may be the toughest job in baseball: Enter from the bullpen and pitch like a starter.
He did that Sunday in relief of Jimenez, giving up just two runs in 4 1/3 innings while the Orioles attempted to scratch back from a five-run hole in the first. He felt the discomfort then, but pitched through it. And now he won’t pitch for two weeks.
Worley was called on to pitch 22 innings in 10 games in the last month – from May 12 to June 12 – and posted a 2.45 ERA. He had a 1.80 ERA in 15 games as a reliever. It wasn’t always pretty or perfect, but on a team that has had its share of starters throwing a shoe, as Showalter says, Worley has been pretty darn valuable.
That role of right-handed long man, at least for now, is in the hands of Despaigne, a 29-year-old who had a 3.59 ERA in 12 starts at Norfolk. He’s been particularly good lately, a 2.20 ERA in his last six starts. The Cuba native is intriguing, but he has a 4.74 ERA in 50 big league games, including a 5.80 ERA for the San Diego Padres last year.
Is it possible Despaigne goes into the rotation for the Orioles? Sure. But it’s also possible he goes back to Norfolk by Saturday when Yovani Gallardo comes off the disabled list to start at Camden Yards.
Jimenez getting bumped to the bullpen has always made the most sense, though his lack of command surely isn’t an asset there. He can’t go to the minors without his permission, he can’t be trusted in the rotation right now and most of the parking lots I’ve inspected around Camden Yards appear level and pothole-free.
The pitchfork-wielders want him cut, and I understand that; but given his history of stinking and then getting his mechanics right and being serviceable again, I just don’t see the Orioles eating Jimenez’s $20+-million due through next year. Not yet, anyway.
Especially when the rotation appears to be a mess, with Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson taking their lumps and Gallardo a complete wild card right now. And especially because, if designated, other pitching-needy teams surely would wait out the waiver process and take a chance on Jimenez (he’s still only 32, has a career ERA of 4.12 and had a 4.11 ERA in 32 starts last year) for the minimum while the Orioles would be forced to pay the nearly full bill.
So my thought is this: Extinguish the Ubaldo torches you lit this afternoon when the Despaigne news broke. But keep them and the matches handy; I’m sure many will.