Off the grid: Focused Ubaldo ready for O's debut
In keeping with tradition, right-hander shuts off phone ahead of start vs. Red Sox
BALTIMORE -- It's the Orioles' first off-day of the season, Ubaldo Jimenez's first full day in Baltimore with nothing baseball-related, and the right-hander is officially unreachable -- to everyone.
Jimenez started the mind-clearing activity -- shutting his phone off the day before he starts -- about seven years ago, and he said it helps him concentrate on the upcoming task. No social media, no text messages or long conversations. The only exception Jimenez can remember since this started is if he needs to get in touch quickly with a family member. He'll relent briefly, only if it's important, as Jimenez -- who plans to have most of his relatives live with him in the spot he's rented in Baltimore -- gives new meaning to the term family-oriented.
And while Monday marked the beginning of the O's season, Wednesday will officially usher in the Ubaldo Era, as the right-hander -- who was signed to the largest free-agent contract for a pitcher in club history -- will take the mound for Baltimore for the first time.
"I put enough pressure on myself to be the best I can be," Jimenez said of how the four-year, $50 million commitment will change him. "The money, how much I'm going to make, is definitely something different because of the expectations and stuff like that. But I'm excited. I'm excited for the expectations and I like the challenge."
Jimenez will be tested right away in facing the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox, a team he's faced only four times in his career (1-2 with a 11.72 ERA). Last season, Jimenez lasted just 1 2/3 innings in his lone start against Boston, giving up seven earned runs on two hits and five walks. Command was an issue for Jimenez in that game, and one of the biggest question marks following the Orioles' commitment to Jimenez, who has been both dazzling and baffling in his career, was: can they keep him consistent?
"That's the ultimate challenge," pitching coach Dave Wallace said of Jimenez, who pitched to a 1.82 ERA in his final 13 starts with the Indians. "But now that we've had him and been able to watch him throw, he really gets himself in a good position. The lower half of his body and his legs and trunk get in a real good position to throw the ball. It's still at the point where we're learning as much about him as he is about us.
"It's not going to happen all at once. It's not going to happen in a week or a month, but hopefully over the course of a season, we can minimize the streaks of inconsistency."
Jimenez hasn't always had such an unorthodox delivery, but a shoulder strain while he was in the Minors back in 2004 kept him from the mound for five months. When he came back, everything changed.
"I was trying to find a way with my mechanics to make nothing hurt, and that's what I got," Jimenez said. "That's how it came about."
There's been plenty of tinkering and toying with it since then, with an ankle injury in 2012 not allowing Jimenez to stay consistent with any delivery. One pitch would be over the top, the next would be closer to his side, leading to an MLB-high 17-loss season.
Last year, with Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway helping him smooth things out, Jimenez started to show signs of his old self, the one who started the All-Star Game in 2010. The O's haven't reached out to Callaway just yet, though they've considered it, and Wallace has a few former pupils similar to Jimenez.
People often bring up Pedro Martinez, whom Jimenez mentioned in his introductory news conference, but Ramon Martinez had a similar long-and-lean build to Jimenez and a lot of moving parts. That arm angle, the way Jimenez can manipulate the ball, is unusual but not unheard of.
"When I had Hideo Nomo, everyone talked about how unconventional he was, but he really got himself in good position," Wallace said. "That's a resource you pull up, when you've had guys in the past that were somewhat unconventional. But if you break it down, [Jimenez] can be more consistent, without a doubt."
One thing that has gone unchanged about Jimenez is the way he carries himself in the clubhouse, something the Orioles did their due diligence on before making that kind of a commitment.
"He's a quality human being," manager Buck Showalter said. "This guy is good people. I had heard that, had a lot of people talk about it. ... He's committed. If you really look at his background, this is the first time an organization has really stepped out and just made the commitment to him for a long period of time. A lot of people talked about it, came close to doing it. But I think that means something to Ubaldo. This is a good human being. Very respectable, but at the same time, he's competitive. He's in a good place right now mentally."
Jimenez, who signed with the O's knowing only Miguel Gonzalez from a Minor League All-Star Game, won't be the type of player who elicits much -- if any -- emotion on the mound. An imposing physical presence, he is soft-spoken and mild-mannered in interviews. Jimenez has heard the criticism that comes with not wearing your heart on your sleeve, that he doesn't care enough or act as if this is important.
"It bothers me when people say that it's bad, that I need to get some more energy or whatever, but that's who I am," Jimenez said. "I'm fun. I like to joke around and things like that. But once I get to the game, I'm always the same.
"Some people say that I need to show emotion. But I have enough emotion. I try to do the best I can every five days, and I really care about the game. But if I do bad, I move on quick. I don't stay in the moment. That's something that people need to know; it doesn't matter how I react out there, I care. If I have a good game, if I have a bad game, I stay the same. I don't change."
There is a silly side to Jimenez, who laughs at the old picture Gonzalez -- in the locker next to him -- digs up to show off from their Minor League days. He smiles easily and likes to dance, particularly bachata, which he learned growing up in the Dominican Republic. Everywhere he goes, Jimenez carries a Dominican flag and a picture of his 9-year-old niece, Crisley. Jimenez's family will meet him in New York for his second start next week before traveling back to Baltimore.
"[He's been] an absolute pleasure," Wallace said of Jimenez. "He's respectful, he's engaging, he's all about wanting to get better. And I think [we are] pleasantly surprised by, even in this short period of time, he's been great. He's been so engaging and such a part of this team. He's fit right in. This guy is going to help us."