Is Jimenez Learning to Pitch All Over Again?
By Mike Brandyberry
Shhh, don’t talk about it, you’ll jinx it.
That’s what I was told by several followers Sunday when I wondered aloud on Twitter if Ubaldo Jimenez could be finally finding his control and be the pitcher the Tribe traded for late last July.
After a May 27 start against the Chicago White Sox, where Jimenez allowed seven runs, on seven hits and four walks—in only four innings—his next start was pushed back in the rotation. His eight days off between starts was to work on mechanical issues, some things that can’t normally be worked on between regular starts with only four or five days off. So far, the eight day tune up has been just what Jimenez and the Indians have been looking for.
Sunday, Jimenez pitched seven innings, allowing only five hits, one run and striking out seven. His only mistake was a solo home run to Carlos Beltran in the first inning. While he didn’t earn the win in the contest, it felt like a much larger victory than just one game in Jimenez’s rebirth as a pitcher.
The most encouraging sign of yesterday’s start is that it was his second consecutive outing where he was getting ahead of hitters, staying low on the pitch count and avoiding walks. Last week, coming off his eight day vacation from the mound, Jimenez pitched six and two-third innings against the Detroit Tigers. Again, he allowed only five hits and one run while earning his sixth victory of the season. His only walk that evening was against the final hitter he faced.
His two runs and only one walk over the last 13 2/3 innings has not been matched in his career since June 1 and 7 of 2011. Even then, Jimenez struggled through most of his season in Colorado before being traded to Cleveland. He hasn’t been the dominant, starting pitcher the Indians hoped to acquire since the All-Star break of 2010 when he was 15-1 at the break.
However, maybe Jimenez’s struggles over the last two seasons aren’t so much of a focus on mechanics, but a loss of his fastball. Since his dominant season in 2010, Jimenez has lost nearly four full miles per hour off his fastball. He might get one up to 95-96 mph on occasion, but he can no longer get there with any consistency or accuracy. Not just is his fastball down four miles per hour, but his slider has fallen five miles per hour in the last two years. Whatever the reason for the loss of his fastball, the fact remains that it is lost, once it is gone for two seasons, you can’t expect it to return.
This season though, Jimenez has begun to use his curveball more than he’s used it in many years. With the loss of his power pitches, he has no choice but to incorporate more finesse. Not just in his last two starts, but when Jimenez has been his best this season, his curveball has been noticeable.
In his first start of the season on April 7, Jimenez took a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays into the seventh inning. That day he was mixing his pitches and relying on his curveball. On May 6, Jimenez outpitched Yu Darvish, issuing him his first MLB loss, and only allowing two hits over seven innings. Each time his curveball was spectacular.
Maybe his problems aren’t mechanical, maybe they are learning to become a different pitcher. Maybe it’s the comfort of throwing to Lou Marson during his last couple games. He’s probably the catcher he works most with while throwing on the side. Whatever the reason is, it does appear that Jimenez is starting to find consistency on the mound. A consistent Jimenez could be what takes the Indians to another level in the standings.
Shh, don’t talk about it, you’ll jinx it.
Photo: Jeff Curry/Getty Images