Orioles manager Buck Showalter can't see many more starts like the one Ubaldo Jimenez gave him Sunday afternoon in Toronto, and while Showalter has been vigilant in supporting his spiraling right-hander, it's growing obvious his patience is wearing thin.
In a growing list of ugly outings for Jimenez, Sunday's start at Rogers Centre was the worst. In fact, Jimenez's 1/3-inning outing in the Orioles' 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays was the shortest of his 278-start major league career.
Jimenez faced just seven batters – six of them reaching on hits – before he was pulled from the game after Toronto ran out to a 5-0 lead.
"It's the worst feeling for a pitcher, not being able to go past the first inning," Jimenez said. "I let the team down. I couldn't help the team at all. I put them in a big hole right away for the relievers, the offense, everything, so it's just disappointing."
After Sunday's game, Showalter was asked whether Jimenez's rotation spot is in jeopardy, and the manager's endorsement wasn't resounding.
"I know it is a question you have to ask," Showalter said. "You're watching the same games I am. This has been probably his longest stretch of him not being as good as he's capable of being. We look at it after every start for everybody. And will continue to do that. He knows it's not good enough. He knows that.
"We have to look at other possibilities," Showalter added. "But if we do something, he is going to hear about it from us long before he reads about it."
The 32-year-old Jimenez has struggled this season – he is 3-7 with a 6.89 ERA -- but Sunday reached a new low as he allowed five runs on six hits in a snap. Before Sunday, his shortest start of his career had been a one-inning outing on July 30, 2011 at San Diego, which was his last start with the Colorado Rockies before he was traded to Cleveland.
Jimenez now has two starts of two innings or shorter in his last four outings and has gone beyond five innings just once in his last seven starts. His struggles on the road are also glaring. Jimenez is now 0-5 with a 10.13 ERA in five road starts this season.
"I've been working on everything, but right now, it's like even if I make a good pitch, they hit it," Jimenez said. "That's what happened today. I know I fell behind in the count a couple times and they took advantage of it, but even when I made a good pitch today, they hit it."
On Sunday, Jimenez threw 30 pitches before being yanked. Four of the six hits Jimenez allowed were doubles. He fell behind five of the seven batters he faced.
"Just two issues," Showalter said. "His stuff is not very crisp and he can't command the baseball right now. That is a bad combination. We are supposed to hit targets and he is missing the width of the plate. Stuff isn't very crisp. That is a bad combination against a good hitting team."
Jimenez said that one of the most frustrating parts of his struggles are that he feels like he's had good work days between his starts – his unconventional mechanics are something that he constantly must keep in check -- but that work hasn't translated to results during games.
"Yeah it is tough," Jimenez said. "Like even today, when I was throwing in the bullpen, I was feeling really good and I came in the game and everything went the other way."
When Jimenez struggled in 2014, the Orioles sent him to the bullpen in a long relief role to work with pitching coaches Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti on his mechanics. He saw positive results at the end of the season.
The Orioles (36-26) are 6-7 in games Jimenez starts, and his days in the rotation might be numbered. But Showalter said he'd still have to trust Jimenez to get outs in the bullpen to make a switch work.
"The problem with the American League and the American League East, you put someone in that bullpen, they have to be effective there, too. … So, you put somebody down there, you have to feel capable they can do that job, too. There's not people in the bullpen that don't pitch. You have to put people down there that don't jeopardize the health of everyone else."
Trying to solve Jimenez's problems is no easy matter. It's not as simple as sending him to the minors or all together cutting ties with him. Because of Jimenez's service time, the Orioles can't option him to the minors without his approval. And he's making $13 million this year and another $13.5 million, so it's not east to cut bait with that much money committed to him.
Jimenez said he can't worry about all of that. He needs to focus on getting himself right again.
"The only thing I can control is keep working hard, regardless of worries or how It's going to be," Jimenez said. "I have to find a way to find myself and try to help the team whatever it is. I don't have any control in that."