It doesn’t matter how Ubaldo Jimenez performs on Wednesday night.
Whether the good version makes a cameo for the first time since early May or he again pitches like the worst starter in baseball, the Orioles are sending a bad message all the way around by giving him the ball against the San Diego Padres after moving him to the bullpen just a week ago.
Through all the noise about the difficult schedule this week, the Orioles have known since sending Mike Wright down to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday that they would need a starter for Wednesday’s game. They even opened up space Tuesday by outrighting infielder Paul Janish to Norfolk, meaning they had the flexibility to promote any pitcher in the organization not currently on the 40-man roster.
Instead, the Orioles decided to roll with a pitcher whose 7.34 ERA ranks last in the majors among those registering at least 60 innings.
It speaks volumes about the state of the organization’s starting pitching depth. Not that anyone is convinced that Odrisamer Despaigne or Joe Gunkel or Nick Additon or any other minor-league starter with a pulse would provide substantial improvement, but why field teams at Norfolk or Double-A Bowie if you’re just going to maintain the status quo with a starting rotation ranking 13th in the AL in ERA?
What message does it send to the rest of your first-place club that this is the best you can do? A couple weeks ago, the Orioles replaced Mike Wright with, well, Mike Wright. Then, they removed Jimenez for the returning Yovani Gallardo. Now, they’ve demoted Wright again in favor of Jimenez.
Talk about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
The Orioles have now essentially told both Jimenez and Wright, “You’re not good enough, but here’s the ball again because we have no one else worthy of receiving a shot.” Having no competition for starting pitchers performing so far below expectations is embarrassing for a contending team.
A first-place club with a powerful offense, a great bullpen, and a strong infield defense deserves better. It at least deserves an attempt to be better, but that’s an issue that dates back to the offseason when improving the starting pitching was initially deemed a priority by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles proceeded to lose their best starter from 2015 — Wei-Yin Chen — and replace him with Gallardo, a pitcher with shoulder concerns that have already landed him on the disabled list.
To make matters worse, the Orioles thought they had enough rotation depth this spring to jettison a struggling Miguel Gonzalez to save $4 million instead of sending him to the minors to work on his issues. His 4.29 ERA is far from stellar, but his velocity is back in line with where it was the last four years and he’d be a substantial upgrade over Wright or Jimenez right now.
Of course, Wednesday’s start doesn’t mean Jimenez will remain in the rotation. Perhaps this truly is an attempt at a Hail Mary with the 32-year-old after seeing how his demotion has negatively impacted the bullpen over the last week. His lone relief appearance last Friday brought an inability to even keep the Orioles within four runs of Toronto after Wright was lifted in the fourth inning.
It’s difficult to hide a pitcher in the bullpen when he can’t even contribute in that kind of a low-leverage situation.
Despite still being owed roughly $21 million through next season, maybe this represents Jimenez’s last chance with the Orioles.
At some point, you have to recognize a sunk cost and move on, right?
Otherwise, we’re reminded that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.