SARASOTA, Fla. - Inconsistent and erratic would be two words to describe right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez and his three years with the Orioles. But when he is good, he can be really good and we’ve seen that, too.
Late last season, for instance. From Aug. 25 on, Jiménez pitched to an ERA of 2.45 in his last seven regular season starts with a WHIP of 0.86. That was at the end of a year where he went 8-12 overall with an ERA of 5.44 in 142 1/3 innings.
One member of the organization that has been quite helpful for Jiménez with his mechanics and in many other ways is former major league pitcher Ramón Martinez. The older brother of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, he is a special assignment pitching instructor for the organization. But for Jiménez, he is someone he can lean on that speaks his language - literally and in other ways. Like Jiménez, Martinez is a native of the Dominican Republic. The countrymen began to work together often last season and that continued this winter.
O’s manager Buck Showalter said it’s been a solid pairing and one he hopes continues to help Jiménez put up solid numbers.
“It’s been great,” Showalter said “Ubaldo speaks English as well as I do, but just the chance for him to freely express himself. Ramon has a real good ear and when he speaks, Ramón has well-thought-out things that he talks about. And there is a real sincerity about it.
“Ramón has been there. Lot of people forget how good a pitcher Ramón was. He had a pretty good brother, but Ramón was pretty good, too. And Ramon has the right type of sympathetic ear.
“He can be tough. But he’s been great for us in a lot of different areas. He’s been great with (Jesus) Liranzo and (Jayson) Aquino picking his brain about a lot of things that we may not catch. They know he’s in their corner, to a point. As long as they are doing what they are being asked to do. He can give the tough love, too, when he needs to.”
Jiménez told me yesterday he and Martinez took the progress they made with his mechanics late last year and continued to work on them this winter.
“Pretty much the same things that we were doing last year,” Jiménez said. “Working on my mechanics and making sure I bring my arms where they are supposed to be so it allows me to stay back and repeat my mechanics. My mechanics are in a good place right now, allowing me to command my fastball.”
Now Jiménez will try to take his strong ending to the regular season and pick up where he left off in April.
“It gives me confidence,” he said. “If I execute pitches and do what I am supposed to do you can have good games and be there for the team.”
In February 2014, the Orioles signed Jiménez to a free agent contract for four years and $50 million. He has gone 26-31 with an ERA of 4.72 over the first three seasons of the deal. It hasn’t always gone well for him on the mound, but Jiménez has enjoyed his first three seasons in Baltimore.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I know we haven’t gotten where we want to be, the World Series. But I’ve had so much fun in this clubhouse. We have a bunch of great guys and great coaches. It’s been a good experience. Hopefully, we win a World Series for Baltimore.”
In four spring starts, Jiménez is 0-2 with an ERA of 4.97. Over 12 2/3 innings, he has allowed 12 hits with eight walks and nine strikeouts. He walked just three in his first three outings, but issued five walks in his most recent start on March 15 against Pittsburgh.
A free agent after this season, the 33-year-old Jiménez doesn’t know yet which team he will be with in 2018. His future is uncertain beyond the coming season.
“For me, I don’t even think about it,” he said. “I come here every day to have fun and enjoy my time with my teammates. If you are thinking that far ahead, you can’t think about anything else. You just have to get ready for the season.”
Throughout his career, when Jimenez has had a poor start - and being honest, there have been quite a few - he has always said that he quickly puts it behind him. While his last outing wasn’t a start, it was one he has to put behind him. He threw the last pitch of the Orioles’ 2016 season, a pitch that Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion (now with Cleveland) hit 440 feet for a three-run blast that gave Toronto the win in the 11th inning in October at Rogers Centre in the American League wild card game.
“It was tough,” Jiménez said. “Only one pitch and everything disappeared. Everything that we worked for since the first day of spring training last year, it just went out the window with that pitch. But it’s part of life. You have to get up, you have to move on and keep going. There is no way that you are going to be thinking about what happened in the past and be able to move forward.”