Season Expectations Ride Squarely On The Shoulders Of Jimenez
Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who are most in need of a bounce back season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.
By Mike Brandyberry
No player is watched and analyzed more than Ubaldo Jimenez on the Cleveland Indians. Since the trade last July 30, fans have watched and critiqued every move the right handed starting pitcher makes, comparing him to the top prospects mortgaged to obtain his services.
In 2010, Jimenez was 15-1 for the Colorado Rockies and starting the All-Star Game for the National League. The 26-year old budding star was signed to a long term contract and deemed as untouchable as nearly any pitcher in baseball. Even the thin air of the Rocky Mountains couldn’t stifle his blazing fastball. However, Jimenez struggled in the second half of the season, finishing 19-8, with a 2.88 ERA, with 214 strikeouts in 222 innings. Pretty good numbers, but those were supported by his superhuman first half.
Last season looked to be a continuation of that rocky second half of 2010. Jimenez reported to Rockies’ camp, by his own admission, out of shape. He had normally pitched winter ball, but had not that season. His lack of fitness and a blister issue on his right hand left him behind in his preparation for the 2011 season, and it showed. When rumors circulated that Jimenez could be dealt, he left Colorado with a 6-9 record and 4.46 ERA, hardly the work of an all-star the year before.
Jimenez’s two sour half seasons were the only reason he became available for trade, but the Rockies held out for a king’s ransom. Only the Indians seemed interested in paying Dan O’Dowd’s dowry when they sent Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joseph Gardner and Matt McBride to Colorado for Jimenez. The Tribe was willing to trade two potential aces for one proven ace, albeit one who hasn’t been an ace since July 2010.
The trade—one Mark Shapiro has admitted he never had the courage to make—is a deal that is not in the Indians’ character over the last 20 years. The Tribe doesn’t trade young prospects, always holding them for tomorrow. However, when Chris Antonetti put his stamp on the team and made this trade the message was clear that the team was playing to win now and a window of opportunity was established between now and 2013 to compete. Jimenez’s long term deal—along with Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera—will have expiring contracts. The time to win is in the next two seasons.
Short of Antonetti, no one should feel the burden and pressure to win more than Jimenez. The right handed starter was brought to Cleveland to be a dominant, front of the rotation ace, not the pitcher who struggled through the second half of 2010 and 2011. He’s to be the 1-2 combination with Justin Masterson to lead a team and rotation to the playoffs.
Since the end of last season, one that had Jimenez 4-4, with a 5.10 ERA with the Tribe, the organization has been proud of Jimenez’s effort and drive to rebound in 2012. The Indians moved one of their trainers to the Dominican Republic for the entire winter, so that they could work out daily and monitor Jimenez’s progress and the hard work has been evident this spring. Jimenez’s fastball has returned to the 94-96 mph range that it was early in 2010, not the flat 90-92 he showed a year ago. Ubaldo admits he feels comfortable and a part of the organization, that this is his home. Comfortable, in shape and a returned fastball should only raise expectations.
If the determination and drive has returned along with the sizzle of his fastball, Jimenez has the potential to be the ace they sacrificed their farm system to obtain. His resurgence, along with continued maturation of Justin Masterson, could create a front of the rotation that could combine to win 30-35 games. Realistically, it is that kind of effort the Indians will need to have to chase down the Detroit Tigers and win the American League Central Division.
That responsibility and pressure rides as squarely on the shoulders of Jimenez. His trade created the Indians’ “window of opportunity,” but without a bounce back season, the window will slide shut very quickly.
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com