After lost season on the mound, Jimenez has found his way again for Orioles
baltimore — Manager Buck Showalter announced Saturday that pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez will start the Baltimore Orioles’ first game after the all-star break. It is another indication of how valuable the 31-year-old has been this year.
As of Saturday, Jimenez led the Orioles’ rotation with seven wins and boasted a staff-high wins above replacement of 2.2, double that of closer Zach Britton. He has the best ERA among Baltimore starters, barely ahead of Wei-Yin Chen. When adjusted for fielding and luck, an even bigger gap appears.
Jimenez also has provided consistency, going at least five innings in each of his past nine starts for a team that ranked 27th in innings pitched by starters going into Saturday.
Meanwhile, Jimenez has kept his team in the AL East hunt. The Orioles trailed the New York Yankees by three games before Saturday night’s game.
All Jimenez needed to find his prime form, it turns out, was a lost season.
After signing a $50 million contract with Baltimore before the 2014 season, Jimenez did little to justify that contract in his first year. He finished 2014 with a 4.81 ERA, a career-high 5.5 walks per nine innings and a 1.52 walks plus hits per inning pitched, the second highest he had posted since entering the majors in 2006.
Jimenez made things worse in July of that year when he sprained his ankle in the parking lot outside of his apartment. He posted a 7.84 ERA in two starts after returning in August and was sent to the bullpen.
It was there he remembered a suggestion given to him in May by Vice President of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson and echoed later by pitching coach Dave Wallace. Both had told Jimenez he should not raise his hands so high during his delivery. That technique had helped Jimenez become an all-star in Colorado and pitch a no-hitter there in 2010. Now that he was struggling and had time to tinker with fundamentals, Jimenez experimented with a new delivery.
“I came one day, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m getting rid of that,’ ” he said.
With the new approach, Jimenez earned two wins and a hold in September.
“That’s pretty much been it,” Jimenez said of the adjustment. “I was having too much movement. I was going way too far over the head, so without that, it allowed me to repeat my delivery more consistently.”
He continued fine-tuning his new style in spring training with the help of newly added special assignment pitching instructor Ramon Martinez, Pedro’s brother. Now Jimenez has gone from the worst walk rate of his career in 2014 to his best.
In April, Jimenez had a 1.59 ERA after leaving the month with a 6.59 ERA in 2014.
Jimenez went 4- 0 in June as his team moved from five games back in the AL East on June 3 to leading the division July 1.
In his final start of that month, Jimenez held Cleveland scoreless over eight innings. Third base man Manny Machado praised his pitcher afterward.
“He knows what he’s done in the past and how he didn’t do so well last year,” Machado said after that game. “This year, he has a mind-set of ‘I want to show everybody who I am.’ He’s doing it. He’s showing who the real Ubaldo is.”
Jimenez has started twice since, pitching 12 combined innings and giving up just one earned run across those two starts.
“It’s been good,” Jimenez said of his first half. “I’ve been able to be consistent, giving the team a chance to win every five days.”