Baltimore Orioles: Ubaldo Jimenez’s rotation spot in danger

Ubaldo Jimenez and his 7.17 ERA may not be long for the Baltimore Orioles rotation.

It seems like an eternity ago that Ubaldo Jimenez had 15 wins – and a no-hitter – by the 2010 All-Star break. At the time he seemed like baseball’s next great ace, but he collected only four more victories that season (not that 19 wins are anything to scoff at) and since then has struggled far more often than not. Those struggles have continued in his fourth year with the Baltimore Orioles.

Through nine appearances, eight of them starts, the 33-year-old right-hander has put up a ghastly 7.17 ERA, 1.71 WHIP and 1.28 K/BB ratio over 42.2 innings. He’s served up 11 home runs (2.3 HR/9) and allowed 25 walks (5.3 BB/9), while his 6.8 K/9 would be the lowest of any full season in his career. The O’s are 5-3 in his starts, but only because they’ve averaged 5.72 runs of support.

It’s reached the point where serious questions are being asked about Jimenez’s place in the rotation, questions directed at Orioles manager Buck Showalter. Per MASN’s Roch Kubatko, Showalter discussed the future of his floundering pitcher on Tuesday:

“Jimenez’s next start is on Sunday and we’ll see what happens when we get there. That’s when he’s scheduled to start again. We’ll take each day as it comes and see where we are as a pitching staff after each outing.”

The skipper doesn’t outright dismiss Jimenez remaining in the rotation, but it was hardly a ringing endorsement. It’s clear that if the 12-year veteran indeed gets the ball on Sunday, he’ll need to turn in a strong performance to have any hope of keeping his spot.

As Kubatko notes, conventional wisdom says Alec Asher would likely be the next man up should Jimenez be removed from the starting staff. The former Phillies farmhand has already made two spot starts this year and performed fairly well. He held the Blue Jays to one run over 6.1 innings on April 15, and allowed three runs in six frames against the Red Sox on May 2.

The 25-year-old has made eight other appearances in relief, and his overall numbers on the year are quite good: 2.33 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 3.00 K/BB. However, Kubatko points out that putting Asher into the rotation could weaken a bullpen that is already without star closer Zach Britton.

However, if Jimenez keeps getting shelled every time he takes the mound, the O’s will have to make a change one way or another. This is a team expected to compete for a playoff spot, and right now they’re just 1.5 games behind the division-leading Yankees. But they’ve slowed of late, losing seven of their last 10, and could use a jolt.

The four-year, $50 million contract Jimenez signed with Baltimore in 2014 wasn’t exactly a financial back-breaker, but he’s done very little to justify his salary: His ERA in an Orioles uniform is approaching 5.00. He’s unlikely to really turn it around, and this being the final year of his deal, the O’s don’t need to feel compelled to stick with him.

Perhaps he can become somewhat useful in a bullpen role (his lone relief outing this season was a three-inning scoreless one) but there’s little reason to continue running Jimenez out there to be an anchor on the club’s chances every five days.

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