Exactly six months after signing a four-year, $50 million contract to sure up the Orioles’ starting rotation in 2014, Ubaldo Jimenez is going to the bullpen.
Manager Buck Showalter announced Tuesday in Chicago that the struggling right-hander will now pitch in relief, paving the way for right-handed pitcher Miguel Gonzalez to retake his spot in the starting rotation for the first-place Orioles. Jimenez returned from the disabled list on Aug. 9 after being sidelined with an ankle injury for more than a month, but the 30-year-old allowed nine earned runs in 10 1/3 innings spanning two starts, continuing what’s been a disappointing first season in Baltimore.
The Orioles had hoped the injury layoff would afford Jimenez the opportunity to straighten out his mechanics as he leads the American League with 66 walks and is 4-9 with a 4.83 ERA in 20 starts. Instead, it became apparent that the veteran would not stick in a rotation that’s helped lift the Orioles to a 71-52 record and a 7 1/2 game lead in the AL East entering Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox.
Gonzalez was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 9 despite going 6-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 19 starts and 20 appearances overall in 2014. The emergence of 23-year-old right-hander Kevin Gausman in June was making in increasingly difficult for Showalter to try to manage six starting pitchers, a problem that was temporarily quelled when Jimenez went to the DL just before the All-Star break.
It’s unclear whether the Orioles will go with an extra arm in the bullpen or decide to option another reliever such as left-hander T.J. McFarland. Of course, rosters will expand on Sept. 1, which will make it easier to carry Jimenez on the roster as the Orioles seek their second postseason appearance in the last three years.
In spring training, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette envisioned Jimenez giving the Orioles a high-ceiling pitcher who wouldn’t be viewed as an ace but could pitch like a No. 1 starter for stretches of time like he had at other points in his career. Instead, Jimenez quickly settled in as the weak link in the rotation after signing the richest free-agent contract ever awarded to a pitcher in franchise history.
Of his 232 career appearances over nine seasons, the Dominican hurler has only pitched in relief once, his major league debut on Sept. 26, 2006.
Jimenez is under contract through the 2017 season.