9/22/17 -- The Orioles lost to the visiting Tampa Bay Rays Friday night, 8-3. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)
Whether Ubaldo Jiménez pitches again after the Orioles leave town Sunday is immaterial to the notion that his start Friday was as fitting an end to his time on a mound in Baltimore as it was disappointing.
The man who, through it all, has posted whenever the Orioles asked did one last time at Camden Yards and walked off the mound after three innings with six runs in on eight hits. Only a wide turn around second base on an RBI single in the third inning that turned into a gift third out allowed him to head to the dugout with his teammates and not face the judgment of the local fans on his own one last time.
Yet after the game, manager Buck Showalter and Jiménez laid the blame on two pitches for all the struggles — the 0-2 slider that hit first baseman Logan Morrison to open the second inning and the belt-high fastball that catcher Wilson Ramos hit out for a grand slam three batters later.
That Jiménez came back and gave back the two runs the offense had given him in the bottom of that inning was also noted. But as ever, instead of possibly eulogizing Jiménez's four years in Baltimore, the manager noted the positives.
"That's for another day," Showalter said. "I'm not going to. It's not up. We always look for the positives in everything, especially my job and if you look, you'll always find them. Tonight wasn't one of them."
Jiménez has never let starts like Friday's discourage him, even if they've piled up. Asked why for four years, he followed up outings like Sunday's 10-strikeout win with nights like Friday, he joked: "Hopefully, when I get that answer, I'll let you know. But I've been feeling good, especially this year. I don't really have the results to show for it. You know, I'm still one that will always believe that whatever God has for me, I'm not going to fight with it. It doesn't matter. I'm just going to go out there and give my best, and whatever happens at the end of the day, I'm going go have to live with."
When his contract runs out at this season, there's going to be a lot to live with on both sides. If he doesn't pitch again this year — and he's certainly been banished to the bullpen for less — Jiménez will end his final season with the Orioles at 6-11 with a 6.81 ERA. Since he signed his four-year, $50 million deal ahead of the 2014 season, no American League pitcher has a higher ERA than his 5.22. Entering Friday, he'd compiled 5.0 wins above replacement (WAR) over that span, which gives the Orioles the smallest return of any of the four-year deals made that offseason.
Matt Garza signed an identical deal and had 5.4 WAR for the Milwaukee Brewers, Ricky Nolasco got $1 million less, but earned 5.8 WAR for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angeles. That Minnesota was able to trade Nolasco and get out of the contract for the less expensive Hector Santiago makes Jiménez's deal even less desirable by comparison.
Any pitcher with the contract expectations Jiménez had who doesn't live up and keeps getting chances is bound to frustrate followers of that team. But Jiménez said he doesn't think about whether it was his last start in Baltimore — only how grateful he was to spend four seasons.
"I mean, it's been ... it's up and down," he said. "But having been here in this clubhouse with such a great group of guys is something that I'm always going to take with me, and nothing's going to erase that."