The Orioles have moved right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to the bullpen, as MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko wrote last night. His push to the relief corps creates a spot in the starting five for the returning Yovani Gallardo, who has been out since late April with a shoulder injury, but is clearly a disappointing outcome for a pitcher that is in the third season of a four-year, $50MM contract signed prior to the 2014 campaign. (That offseason ultimately yielded three nearly identical ill-fated contracts for pitchers, as Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza signed for almost the exact same terms and have each failed to provide the stabilizing rotation force their new teams had hoped to be acquiring.)
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Jimenez, 32, has been among the league’s least successful pitchers this season, giving Baltimore decision-makers little choice but to take some kind of action. The O’s stuck with Jimenez for 13 starts (62 2/3 innings), but his most recent start — one-third of an inning pitched, six hits and five earned runs — proved to be a tipping point. He’s now sporting a disastrous 6.89 ERA on the season, and while there’s some BABIP and strand-rate luck perhaps bloating that number, the majority of his peripheral stats have taken a step in the wrong direction. Jimenez’s 7.6 K/9 rate is his lowest since 2012, and he’s averaging five walks per nine innings as well just one season after making significant gains in that department. His 7.1 percent swinging-strike rate is the second-lowest of his career, and his 89.8 mph average fastball is also a career-worst.
All that said, Jimenez is just a year removed from a useful 4.11 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 49.1 percent ground-ball rate in 184 innings, so there’s perhaps some degree of hope that the mercurial veteran can get back to being a useful source of innings with some time in the ’pen to work on his mechanics. If, however, his struggles persist, the Orioles will have to consider more drastic options. Kubatko reported earlier in the week that the Orioles were willing to simply release Jimenez if it came to that. Clearly, cutting bait on a pitcher that is owed $7.74MM through season’s end as well as another $13MM in 2017 isn’t an ideal outcome, but at a certain point the contending Orioles may not feel justified in using a precious 25-man roster spot on such a dramatic underperformer.
On a grander scale, the struggles of Jimenez underscore the Orioles’ need to add to their rotation at some point this summer. While Chris Tillman (2.87 ERA, 84 2/3 innings) and Kevin Gausman (3.45 ERA, 60 innings) have been strong pieces, the rest of the team’s starting options have been woefully unimpressive. Jimenez, Gallardo, Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and Vance Worley have combined to make all of the Orioles’ non-Tillman/Gausman starts this season and posted a collective 5.96 ERA in just over 200 total innings of work.