CHICAGO -- Struggling Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez was sent to the bullpen Tuesday, bumping him from a crowded starting rotation in a move that seemed destined to occur since his last rocky outing over the weekend in Cleveland.
Before Tuesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Orioles mananger Buck Showalter announced his rotation through Monday, and Jimenez wasn’t among the starters. He will be available out of the bullpen starting Wednesday. Showalter didn’t rule out the possibility of using Jimenez as a spot starter, but at this point Jimenez seems destined for mop-up duty out of the bullpen.
“We don’t have any limitations now on anybody, so there’ll be a need that Ubaldo can serve this team,” Showalter said. “It could be as a starter, and it could be as a reliever, but right now, for the next five games, six [days], we know where we’re going.”
Jimenez was told Tuesday that he was being moved to the bullpen by Showalter, pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti.
Signed to a four-year, $50 million contract in February, Jimenez has struggled to a 4-9 record with a 4.83 ERA in 20 starts this season. With right-hander Miguel Gonzalez returning this weekend from a brief stint in the minor leagues, the Orioles had to make a decision on whether to keep Jimenez in the rotation.
“Sure, it was [a difficult discussion], but you have your reasons,” Showalter said. “He doesn’t have to agree with them, but he’s been a great teammate, a great professional. He’s got a good heart, and he wants to do well. It’s not like he’s pitched poorly all year. It’s just with what, 39 games left, let’s see how Gonzo does.
Jimenez has made just two starts since July 5. He went on the disabled list July 13 with a right ankle sprain and struggled since returning to the rotation.
In two starts since his return, Jimenez had a 7.84 ERA. He gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings in his last start, Saturday against the Cleveland Indians in a start that fueled speculation that he might be bumped from the rotation.
Of his 232 career major league appearances, just one has come in relief — a scoreless inning in his major league debut Sept. 26, 2006 — so going to the bullpen will be a transition for Jimenez. And even though he missed more than a month with the ankle sprain, Jimenez still leads the American League with 66 walks.
“It will be [an adjustment],” Showalter said. “I don’t think anybody can sit here and answer [how it will go]. You never know. I know he will embrace it as the need of the club it is. But a lot [depends on] whether we go with 13 pitchers or 12 and how that all works out. He’s healthy, he feels good. One of the reasons why when we looked at him, he was one of the few guys who really seems like his health, knock on wood, wasn’t going to be a factor.”
The Orioles will have to make roster room for Gonzalez before he starts Sunday against the Chicago Cubs in the series finale at Wrigley Field. They could option infielder Cord Phelps to Triple-A Norfolk and play with a short bench.
The club had hoped that Jimenez could return from the DL and duplicate his second-half success of last year, when he had a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts.
But with Gonzalez — who was optioned to Norfolk when Jimenez was activated — pitching well before his demotion, the Orioles couldn’t wait any longer for Jimenez to find his way. Following Thursday’s day off, the Orioles will play 12 games in 12 days before rosters expand Sept. 1.
“Hopefully we can get him back a little bit to pitching like he has at times this year,” Showalter said. “It’s going to be tough because you’re not going to sit there and take a lot of work days. That’s a very valuable job that he’s going to have to do something every now and then.”
Right-hander Bud Norris will start Saturday at Wrigley Field, followed by Gonzalez on Sunday and Chris Tillman on Monday at home against the Tampa Bay Rays.