Days before the All Star Break in 2014, Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez was placed on the disabled list after rolling his ankle in a parking lot near his apartment.
He was 3-8 with a 4.52 ERA and was coming off an outing in which he allowed four runs and picked up only 11 outs.
The good old days.
But on Friday night, two days before the 2016 All Star Break, Jimenez gave up five runs while recording only four outs. He is now 5-9 with a disastrous 7.38 ERA.
He probably doesn’t need a parking lot hole this time. Those 2016 numbers – with someone that has a solid track record (a 4.18 career ERA in 11 seasons) – can easily make the case that something is not right with Jimenez physically. Arm fatigue, soreness, whatever.
But Jimenez said after his nightmare outing Friday in the Orioles’ 9-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels that he is healthy.
“I’m good. I have no problem. I have nothing to complain (about),” Jimenez said.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked the same question about whether Jimenez’s struggles could be linked to a physical issue.
“You look at everything, but (health) hasn’t been the case. He’s one of the healthiest guys we have,” Showalter said. “I may go down there today or tomorrow and he might say something different, but he feels good. That’s one thing he’s always brought is taking the ball every fifth day and being a healthy pitcher.”
I’m not suggesting the Orioles should make up an injury – as convenient as that might be. But Jimenez can’t start again for this team right now, no matter how bleak the other choices may look. Sending him back to the bullpen isn’t a perfect fit either and he can’t be demoted to the minors without his consent, which would make little sense for a veteran who could instead choose free agency and still keep the guaranteed money from his contract.
“We had tried to put him in the bullpen, see if we could work some things out there,” Showalter said. “But necessity put him back in there, so we’ll attack it after the break.”
Of course, many fans want to cut him and have the Orioles eat $20 million or so owed to him through next year. Maybe it’s gotten that bad for management and ownership, and they’ll just cut ties. Maybe it’s reached that point.
But there are a couple dangers there.
First, he’d pass through waivers, the Orioles would be on the hook for his salary and then he’d be free to go somewhere else for the league minimum this season and in 2017. Given his track record of being able to have excellent spurts when he figures out his mechanics, plenty of teams would roll the dice on him. So the Orioles would have to be prepared for the possibility that Jimenez could morph back into the Good Ubaldo for someone else on their dime.
The only thing worse for Orioles fans than watching Bad Ubaldo pitch is watching Good Ubaldo pitch for another contender while being paid by the Orioles.
Secondly, if you haven’t noticed, the Orioles aren’t flush with starting pitchers at this moment. Eating a major salary for one of them – no matter how bad he has been – doesn’t seem prudent if you can find another solution to hide him for a bit.
And, lastly, the Orioles under owner Peter Angelos had never given a free-agent pitcher a deal beyond three years before doling out the four-year, $50 million contract to Jimenez in 2014. Angelos has always believed long-term deals to starting pitchers weren’t worth the risk. Think that opinion will change any if the club has to eat $20 million for Jimenez?
There is no easy solution here – barring a sudden, out-of-the-blue injury.
That’s what happened in 2014.
But the hole that’s been dug by Jimenez this year is deeper than ever before.
“There’s no doubt about it, this is the toughest thing that I have had to face,” Jimenez said. “I’m never going to put my head down. I know I let the team down and I didn’t do what I’m supposed to do, helping the team. But it’s part of baseball. It’s part of baseball. I have to keep going, keep working hard and hopefully find something that’s going to get me out of this thing.”