The Orioles have no other choice after Ubaldo Jimenez allowed five runs and retired just one batter before being removed from Sunday’s game in Toronto.
It’s time to make a change.
Whether that means a trip to the bullpen or the Orioles making the bold and difficult decision to designate him for assignment, Jimenez shouldn’t remain in the starting rotation. How hard a worker the 32-year-old might be or even how much money he’s still owed through next season can’t justify him making his next start for a team entering a much-needed off-day still tied for first place in the AL East and 10 games over .500 in mid-June.
Inconsistency is one thing — it’s defined his career, after all — but not giving your club a chance while repeatedly compromising the bullpen is another. The good — or even decent — version of Jimenez has been missing for well over a month now with his best performance over that time being an outing in which he allowed nine hits and three walks in five innings against an undermanned Kansas City lineup last week.
In his last seven starts, Jimenez has pitched to a 10.00 ERA in 27 innings of work. Over that time, he’s twice failed to complete two innings, hasn’t once finished six innings, and has surrendered five or more runs in all but one of those outings.
His season ERA now sits at 6.89 and his WHIP — walks and hits per inning pitched — is an appalling 1.98. As Ravens coach John Harbaugh would say, that’s below the line.
Asked multiple times over the last few weeks about Jimenez’s spot in the rotation, manager Buck Showalter has often replied, “As opposed to whom?” It’s his subtle and mostly-innocuous way of challenging a reporter asking a critical question but also a commentary on the organization’s lack of viable starting pitching depth.
It’s no longer a fitting retort, however. No matter how limited the alternatives might be, you cannot maintain the status quo if you’re trying to be fair to the rest of the players on a contending club, especially after the Orioles decided to jettison the popular Miguel Gonzalez — who is pitching pretty well again in Chicago, mind you — after a difficult second half to 2015 and a poor spring.
It’s unfortunate because Jimenez is a well-liked teammate and desperately wants to do well, but the answer to Showalter’s rhetorical question has become “anybody else” at this point. That’s not to say that Yovani Gallardo or Vance Worley or T.J. McFarland or Odrisamer Despaigne or anyone Dan Duquette might find off the scrapheap will provide the solution the Orioles seek, but all options need to be on the table when you’re talking about replacing a starter with an ERA a smidgen under 7.00.
With Gallardo scheduled to make a final rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Monday, he’s poised to return to the rotation this weekend. The Orioles can only pray that he will have more to offer than he did in April when he had a 7.00 ERA in four starts before going to the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.
We know Jimenez isn’t the only starter struggling as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson both pitched poorly in Toronto, but that shouldn’t be an argument to justify continuing to go down this path with the veteran right-hander.
One problem at a time.
The frustrating thing is that the Orioles don’t need terrific starting pitching to contend when they have such a powerful offense, a terrific bullpen, and strong infield defense. Mediocrity from its rotation would probably be enough, but Jimenez hasn’t been able to provide even that much despite being in the third season of a four-year, $50 million contract.
Even if you believe Jimenez can get himself straightened out with some side sessions and low-leverage appearances out of the bullpen before giving him another shot in the rotation in a few weeks, there’s no competitive reason to continue sending him to the mound every fifth day for a contending club right now. He needs a break mentally and emotionally as much as he does physically to try to figure out how to fix this — if he can.
The Orioles have been more than patient, but Showalter’s first-inning hook on Sunday said it all.
It’s time to throw in the towel.