Wondering if Jiménez is making his final start with Orioles

Is Ubaldo Jiménez making his last start tonight for the Orioles?

This isn’t a question regarding 2018. The Orioles won’t re-sign Jiménez as a free agent. I have no idea what kind of offers he’s going to field over the winter, but this team won’t jump into the bidding.

The rotation over the remaining eight games is mostly a riddle. The only confirmed starter moving forward is right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who takes the mound on Saturday against his former team.

Kevin Gausman will get another start and manager Buck Showalter has twice stated that Dylan Bundy won’t be shut down. Bundy is a candidate for Sunday if he has a good work day.

Chris Tillman said yesterday that he hasn’t been told whether he’s starting again.

Showalter-Jimenez-Duquette-Sidebar.jpgThe Orioles signed Jiménez to a four-year, $50 million deal on Feb. 19, 2014 while they were at the Sarasota complex for spring training. It was a crazy camp considering that Suk-min Yoon signed on Feb. 17, Nelson Cruz on Feb. 24 and Johan Santana on March 4 - the latter to a minor league deal.

The club’s public relations staff had to set a spring record for most press conferences, though Santana met the media in a more casual setting in the workroom. We still counted it.

Cruz agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal, led the majors with 40 home runs as the Orioles won the division and signed with the Mariners for $57 million over four years.

The Orioles were willing to go three years with Cruz but had concerns about his legs and whether he’d stay healthy for four seasons. We’ll find out in 2018, but the first three years have been tremendous and I think we can agree that it would have been wise to keep him.

Yoon signed a three-year, $5.575 contract, posted a 5.74 ERA and 1.578 WHIP in 23 games at Triple-A Norfolk after finally settling his visa issues, didn’t receive an invite to major league camp the following spring and was granted his release so he could return to the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. The Orioles were off the hook for $4.3 million in salary and expenses the team owed him over the next two seasons.

Santana also failed to pitch for the Orioles, but not because he was ineffective. The former Cy Young Award winner, making a comeback after two shoulder surgeries, blew out his left Achilles tendon in June 2014 during his final extended spring training start in Sarasota. He was hit on the left gluteus by a line drive, and his Achilles tore as he stumbled while chasing the ball.

It could happen to any of us.

The Orioles purchased Santana’s contract a few days earlier as he approached the midnight deadline for opting out, placed him on the disabled list and were going to assign him to Double-A Bowie after the game. He never made it back to the majors.

Jiménez has gone 32-41 with a 5.16 ERA and 1.490 WHIP in 116 games and he’s the lightning rod for criticism aimed at the rotation, primarily due to his status as the holder of the largest free-agent pitching contract handed out by the Orioles in club history.

Thirteen of those appearances have come in relief, with Jiménez banished to the bullpen multiple times in three of his seasons. He’s 6-10 with a 6.57 ERA and 1.568 WHIP this season in 30 games, including 24 starts.

Jiménez has no idea whether he’s getting one last turn after tonight and he isn’t concerned about it.

“No, no, I just worry about doing my job tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t think beyond that. That’s what I’m supposed to do, just worry about tomorrow.

“That’s how I always feel. Tomorrow is the biggest game. After that, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Jimenez-Presser-Sarasota-Tall.jpgKeeping his focus on each game as it comes prohibits Jiménez from pondering the end of his Orioles tenure, which includes earning the win on Sept. 16, 2014 when they clinched the American League East.

“I don’t really think about it, because the last couple of months we’ve been fighting for a spot to be in the playoffs,” he said. “That didn’t give me a lot of time to think about where I’m going to be after the season, what’s going to happen. I mean, if it’s the last one, the only thing I can do is go out there and try to do my best.”

The Orioles are trying to avoid finishing below .500 for the first time since 2011. They need to go 7-1.

“It’s been a really tough last month of the season,” Jiménez said. “We haven’t been able to combine the pitching with the offense and defense and everything. It’s like one of those things that happen in baseball that you ask yourself, ‘Why did it happen?’ Because no one knows.”

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