The Orioles will start 25-year-old right-hander Alec Asher in today’s series finale against the Houston Astros instead of veteran Ubaldo Jimenez.
Many of you were clamoring for this to happen weeks ago.
I was holding onto the umbrella in the tornado.
I have, in fact, been doing that for more than a year. And my preaching of patience paid off in the second half last year when Jimenez was one of the Orioles’ best pitchers.
I was proselytizing the same thing this year – I actually predicted Jimenez as my surprise Oriole heading into the season. Next to the Jimenez family, I probably kept the faith longer than anyone that Jimenez would regain his form. Well, in retrospect, never mind.
I put away that soapbox last week after Jimenez gave back another early lead in an eventual loss to the Minnesota Twins. The talent is still there; we’ve seen glimpses of it against Cincinnati and Washington. But the inability to repeat his complicated delivery and throw strikes has been paralyzing, and simplifying his delivery robs him of the deception he needs to befuddle hitters.
And now it is crunch time for the Orioles — losers of six straight and 12 of 15. They can’t just keep going with the same formula and hope the outcome is different. That luxury is over. It was different when Jimenez was pitching poorly in April, and the Orioles were winning in his starts anyway.
Here’s the deal: I get paid to look at the Orioles’ situation objectively – without emotion. Jimenez is a really good guy and has handled his struggles like a professional, but that doesn’t play into my mindset. I promise you that. Good guy or not, it’s about what I think he can do for the team.
Last year, when Jimenez was terrible in the first half, fans, who had knee-jerk reactions like, well, fans, wanted Jimenez cut. “Eat his contract. Get rid of him,” was the refrain I heard over and over again last May and June and in parts of July.
My counter-argument back then: The Orioles owe the guy $20-plus million, he was coming off a season in which he was 12-10 with a 4.11 ERA in 32 starts and his career history shows that the light can go on at any time.
My point was the Orioles could not afford to cut Jimenez – without any obvious replacement — and let him go pitch somewhere else for a year-plus on the Orioles’ dime. Because the only thing worse than seeing Jimenez struggle with the Orioles would be to see him thrive with a rival. It wasn’t as much about sunk costs as it was the potential of that decision biting them back during last year’s stretch run.
By September, I was crowing, “I told you so.”
The exact scenario I presented came to fruition. You can have revisionist history all you want, but the fact remains the Orioles barely made the playoffs in 2016 and Jimenez helped carry the team in the final two months. In his last eight starts in the regular season – after losing his rotation spot and then regaining it out of team necessity – he posted a 2.54 ERA.
The Orioles won five of his final six starts.
Orioles fans who hate Jimenez discount that run, and that solid 2015 season, and simply dwell on the ugly moments. And there have been plenty – no question. His cumulative ERA with the Orioles in 95 games is 4.93, which is bad, generally speaking, and disastrous considering the Orioles signed him to a four-year, $50 million deal in 2014.
I can’t convince the Ubaldo Pitchfork Mafia that Jimenez still has a chance to squeeze some value out of his walk year. I think I’m done trying.
Because, frankly, he has pitched so terribly this year that I don’t believe the rainbow is on the horizon. He certainly can’t be trusted in the rotation. Time has run out on giving him a chance every fifth day, especially with the Orioles limping through this month.
Jimenez’s ERA is 7.17 in nine games, eight starts. He’s allowed 48 hits and 25 walks in 42 2/3 innings. He has earned the demotion to the bullpen. And, because of that inability to throw strikes consistently, he’s never been good pitching in relief.
So, the Orioles may, indeed, have to ultimately eat his contract this year if this relief stint backfires. There’s still roughly $10 million on his contract – but that’s at least more palatable than absorbing twice that last year.
Now, the argument certainly can be made that Jimenez tuned it around in the past after a demotion to the bullpen, and he could do that again in 2017.
That’s not unfathomable. But it’s no longer a torch I want to carry. And that’s because part of my argument in 2016 was that the Orioles didn’t have anyone that was ready and/or clearly better than Jimenez (and he proved that in August and September).
Maybe they don’t this year, either. But there are plenty of guys I’d rather see in the spot, whether it’s Asher or the recently demoted Jayson Aquino or Gabriel Ynoa or Chris Lee.
Right now, there’s no question that Asher, who has pitched well in both of his spot starts, gives the Orioles a better chance to win.
It’s funny. I knew nothing about Asher when he was called up to get his first sport start against Toronto in April. I asked a scout I trusted and he told me that Asher’s stuff was nothing special, that he would get clobbered if he didn’t throw strikes and that his ceiling was probably as a fifth starter.
The scout called Asher “vanilla.”
Well, here we are at the end of May.
Asher is 1-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 11 games (two starts) and absolutely deserves Sunday’s chance.
Jimenez is relegated to the bullpen and his roster spot grows more tenuous each day.
Despite my protestations in the past, this is absolutely the right call.
Sometimes you have to choose vanilla over rocky road.