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Chris Tillman’s return is going to create another Orioles roster crunch

Besides needing a spot starter this evening, the Orioles front office will have another decision on their hands next week. Has Ubaldo’s time in Baltimore expired?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After Kevin Gausman’s early, and absolutely ridiculous, ejection last night in the Orioles’ 4-2 loss to the Red Sox, the birds of Baltimore suddenly find themselves in another roster crunch. It’s never a good idea to use two starters in one game. It’s an even worse predicament when you are looking at eleven games in the next eleven days.

The Orioles have yet to announce a starter, but looking down at the Norfolk rotation, it looks like a decision between Tyler Wilson and Gabriel Ynoa. Both are already on the 40-man roster and will likely replace Richard Bleier who won’t be available for several days after pitching 4 innings on Wednesday night.

It may seem like a slightly unfair reward for the optionable lefty, but this is exactly why Dan Duquette looks for roster flexibility at the front end of his bullpen.

Today’s unforeseen need for a starter is not the roster crunch I’m talking about, however. Soon, the Orioles will be adding Chris Tillman back into the mix and in all likelihood who he replaces will come down to a choice between Ubaldo Jimenez and Alec Asher.

Did Ubaldo pitch himself back on the roster last night?

Ubaldo came into Wednesday night’s game and, to the surprise of Orioles fans everywhere, threw three scoreless innings. He did walk three batters, but struck out two and only allowed one hit. Is it too crazy to think an implosion on his part would have punched his ticket off of the Orioles? He gave us a little bit of hope last night, but outside of his scoreless start against the Reds, his season has been a disaster.

It has been especially disappointing when you consider the success he had down the stretch last season. Coming off of a great September in which he went 4-1 and was arguably the Orioles most valuable pitcher, he has been allowing more hits, more home runs, more walks, and less strikeouts in 2017 than any other year in an Orioles uniform. While the O’s have won four of his five starts this year, (Yeah, that surprised me too) he has not looked like a major league pitcher.

In years past, Ubaldo’s contract has kept him in Baltimore, but this upcoming offseason represents the end of his deal with the Orioles. There is no more holding onto him in case he comes back next year to fill a rotation spot. They can always send him to the bullpen and try to hide him as long as possible, but you’ve seen the flexibility Dan Duquette strives for back there. Ubaldo doesn’t have it.

He has shown the ability in the past to completely turn his season around, but are the contending Orioles willing to take that risk? Maybe they would if they didn’t have another starter out-performing Ubaldo, but Alec Asher seems to have came out of nowhere to stake his claim on a roster spot.

Where did Alec Asher come from?

Quite literally, Asher came over from Philadelphia in the offseason for a PTBNL. But more so, why was he available for so little in return in the first place? The 80-game suspension for PED’s definitely played a factor, but still. With Ubaldo doing his best to hide the fact he once finished in third place for the NL Cy Young Award, Asher looks like a legitimate major league pitcher.

After stringing together five starts for the Phillies last September in which he never allowed more than 3 ER, he looks to have picked up in Baltimore right where he left off. In two starts this year, he has put together two quality starts and has done so against two AL East opponents in Toronto and Boston. Those starts alone have accounted for more quality starts than anyone on the Orioles has thrown this year not named Bundy or Miley.

I understand money is involved, but at some point how can you keep Asher in the bullpen or in AAA when he looks so much more in control of the game than Ubaldo Jimenez?

Asher’s two-seam fastball definitely seems to play in the major leagues and it’s looking like the Duquette quote bot wasn’t too far off when it proclaimed Alec has “command of himself and his pitches.” That in particular is something that Ubaldo has definitely not shown thus far.

What would you do?

It’s no guarantee that Asher is going to continue the success he has shown to this point. He is still an unknown and while his WHIP is solidly under 1.00, his BABIP of .205 and LOB% of nearly 85% suggest a regression could be on the way. That being said, I think you have to keep giving him the ball every five days until he gives you a reason not to.

Ubaldo on the other hand is a tougher call. Last season, he seemed to find himself again after being hidden in the bullpen for several weeks. Despite his struggles, the Orioles would be hard-pressed to give up on him when they literally saw him turn it around less than a year ago.

Unfortunately, it will be harder for the Orioles to stash Ubaldo in the pen this season as long as the Orioles are carrying a 5-man bench. However, Duquette likes his roster flexibility in the bullpen for a reason and if any team could make it work, it’s the Orioles. Duquette’s roster maneuverability may just save Ubaldo one more time.

I think it’s worth the effort to try to stick Ubaldo in the bullpen and see if he can work on his mechanics and return in a few weeks, mopping up some ugly games along the way.

Jimenez has done it once, and if a 76 mph “beanball” is enough to warrant an ejection, who knows when the Orioles could very well need to rely on Ubaldo for a spot start instead of guys like Tyler Wilson and Gabriel Ynoa. If he comes back the same pitcher, it’ll be time to end the Ubaldo era in Baltimore but I’ve not given up hope just yet.

Where do you lie? Are you all in on Asher and done with Ubaldo? Do you think he deserves any more chances in an Orioles uniform or should we cut bait now? Maybe it’s time he catches another famous Camden Yards pothole on his way into the stadium this weekend. Pop in the comments and let us know.