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The Ubaldo Jimenez Experience has ended its four-year run at Camden Yards.
There will be no return engagement, at least not in orange and black.
What surely was Jimenez’s Baltimore swan song as an Orioles pitcher ended in another ugly duckling performance – which, I suppose, is the way it had to be.
Jimenez, 33, has probably been booed more by the home crowd than any other player in team history. It happened again Friday, when he surrendered two homers, including a second-inning grand slam to Wilson Ramos in an eventual 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
At least Jimenez was saved the indignity of being pulled mid-inning Friday and having to complete a final walk of shame to the home dugout. Instead, he was replaced after completing three innings, yielding six runs on eight hits and one hit batter. He put his team into 4-0 and 6-2 holes before departing.
No one really expected this to end any differently. Jimenez, obviously, was hoping it would, though he said pitching his last game in Baltimore as an Oriole was not on his mind.
“I don’t even think about that. Whatever is happening I just thank God every time for giving me the courage to be here so long and, whatever happens, I’m just going to go with it,” he said. “Of course, I didn’t want it to happen again like it (did), but it’s part of the game. I’m never going to dwell on that. It happened, I move on.”
We all know Jimenez’s narrative by now.
The Orioles surrendered a first-round draft pick as compensation in February 2014 while giving Jimenez the largest free-agent contract for a pitcher in club history: Four years and $50 million. The deal raised eyebrows at the time because Jimenez had a streaky reputation and a difficult-to-repeat delivery, but he was coming off a second half with the Cleveland Indians in which he was the American League’s best pitcher.
The Orioles and Dan Duquette, the president of baseball operations, chose to bank on that half – a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts – Jimenez’s relatively young age (30 that January) and his impressive durability.
Well, let’s just say it didn’t work out.
Jimenez posted a 4.81 ERA in 2014, was demoted to the bullpen and ultimately went back to the Dominican when he was left off the postseason roster. He rebounded in 2015, going 12-10 with a 4.11 ERA in 32 starts, a pretty solid year. But, by then, Orioles fans were already soured on the affable, hard-working Dominican and his rollercoaster performances.
He had a 5.44 ERA in 29 games in 2016, rallied for two excellent months and then gave up the walkoff homer to Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion in the AL Wild Card game to end the club’s season. This year, Jimenez has turned in his worst campaign as an Oriole, a 6-11 record and a 6.81 ERA in 31 games (25 starts).
He’s a free agent this offseason, and there’s no way he comes back – or would want to for that matter, although he’d never say that publicly.
“It’s had its ups and downs, of course,” Jimenez said of being an Oriole. “But being here in this clubhouse with such a great group of guys is something that I’m always going to take with me. Nothing is going to erase that.”
He’ll be 34 in January, remains incredibly durable thanks to an unyielding physical routine and said “there’s no doubt” he wants to keep pitching. Someone will take a chance on him, hoping that getting Jimenez out of Camden Yards – a 5.53 ERA in 55 games pitched there – might help.
The problem, of course, is Jimenez’s unrepeatable delivery that provides tremendous deception when on and significant command issues when off. That likely will remain the same no matter where he pitches.
So, Jimenez’s maddening inconsistency won’t be missed in Baltimore. He may make one more start next weekend at Tampa Bay and then officially end his Orioles career. If he doesn’t get the opportunity to pitch again this year, his time with the club will halt with this Orioles’ career line: 32-42, 594 1/3 innings pitched, 614 hits, 345 earned runs, 275 walks, 548 strikeouts, 83 homers allowed and a 5.22 ERA.
Yes, four years, 42 losses and a five-plus ERA does not equate to $50 million. I get it. It’s arguably the worst expenditure in franchise history.
It is a shame, though.
Partially because Orioles ownership believed contracts beyond three years for aging, free-agent pitchers were bad investments. But owner Peter Angelos altered his philosophy on the Jimenez deal because Duquette and company pushed for the signing. It turned out to be a terrible investment – and you have to wonder if the Orioles will ever dip into that end of the free-agent pool again under the Angelos family.
But this ending is also a shame because Jimenez is one of the most professional, even-tempered, decent people I’ve ever covered. For all the criticism thrown at him, Jimenez always took the ball, always met the media and always answered questions about his struggles politely and with a smile, never snapping or ducking as many would have.
This year, I predicted Jimenez would have a strong season, because he was facing free agency, and because he had a mini-resurgence in the second half of 2016. It was part logic and part gut feeling. And I think, also, deep down I wanted to see this guy have success for his sake, his sanity. Good things happening to good people.
But it wasn’t meant to be. The difficulty of pitching in the majors won out over a good story. As it often does.
And, on Friday night, Jimenez stood on the Camden Yards mound one last time in a black Orioles’ jersey.
Sadly, predictably, it didn’t end well.
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