SARASOTA, Fla. — Ubaldo Jimenez’s baseball career is well-documented. His ups and downs in the major leagues have been thoroughly dissected.
A wunderkind who once was among baseball’s best young pitchers, Jimenez’s career trajectory plummeted dramatically in the past few seasons before he resuscitated it with a tremendous second half last year.
And that led the Orioles to give the 30-year-old right-hander a four-year, $50 million deal, the most lucrative contract the club has ever handed out to a free agent pitcher.
Perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding this 2014 team is which Jimenez the club signed — the one who befuddles hitters with a funky delivery and offerings that dip and dash around the plate, or the one who can’t seem to figure out his mechanics and throw strikes.
That’s obviously an important part of Jimenez’s story. But here’s what you really need to know about the man who will make his Orioles debut Wednesday night on the Camden Yards mound against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
Jimenez loves to dance.
“I do,” Jimenez said, breaking into a huge smile. “I like to dance a lot. Latin dances, hip hop, everything, merengue, you name it.”
During spring training, he had a picture of himself dancing and showed it to infielder Alexi Casilla, who has known Jimenez since they were boys playing Little League against each other in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic.
“I just laughed. I mean, I don’t imagine Ubaldo like that, dancing,” Casilla said. “I know his personality, so that’s funny.”
Since he arrived in Sarasota, Fla., in February, Jimenez has fit perfectly into the Orioles’ tight clubhouse. He’s polite and friendly, but also fairly quiet, certainly unassuming and unquestionably serious about his craft.Fellow starter Chris Tillman said he didn’t see Jimenez without a smile on his face for an entire month.
His strong sense of family and simple, quiet lifestyle was not lost on the Orioles when they decided to give him an unprecedented contract.
“He is a quality human being. I had a lot of people talk about it,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “Very respectful, but, at the same time, competitive.”
Fair or not, Jimenez is considered the missing piece for a team that believes it can make a deep run into the postseason this year.
Despite winning 85 games last season, the Orioles’ rotation had the fourth-worst ERA in the American League. The club needed a significant upgrade — and yet that didn’t seem likely since the organization had never given a free agent pitcher a deal of more than three years.
“When we met him, I was just very impressed with his presence and his calmness,” Duquette said. “He just impressed me as a really terrific athlete. His breaking stuff is good. He gets out righties and lefties. But, personally, he is a very impressive kid and, physically, very dependable.”
Jimenez, who has made 30 or more starts in six consecutive seasons, debuted in the majors with the Colorado Rockies in 2006 at age 22. By the next year, he was pitching in the World Series, and in 2010, he emerged as one of baseball’s best pitchers, finishing third in the National League Cy Young balloting.
He was traded to the Cleveland Indians in July 2011 for four players who never panned out for the Rockies. His time in Cleveland didn’t begin well. In 2012, he led the American League with 17 losses and a career-worst 5.40 ERA. He was basically pitching for his career last year — and was 7-4 with a 4.56 ERA in 19 games during the first half. But after the all-star break, Jimenez thrived — posting a 1.82 ERA in his final 13 starts.
— Baltimore Sun