Good Seats Available on ‘Jimenez Bandwagon,’ Including My Seat
By Mike Brandyberry
When Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti traded for Ubaldo Jimenez on July 30, 2011 fans were either all on board, or off board with the controversial trade.
Cleveland decided to trade their top two pitching prospects in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White for Jimenez to give themselves a chance to win in 2011 and beyond. Jimenez pitched in the 2007 World Series and he was 15-1 in the first half of 2010. He was the ace pitcher the Indians had desperately needed so many times in the 1990s, but then-GM John Hart would not pull the trigger on someone like Jimenez to fill the top of the rotation.
Antonetti gambled on Jimenez and I was immediately all-in on the move.
However, since the trade Jimenez was 4-4, with a 5.10 ERA as an Indian in 2011 and while the results were disappointing, I remained on the Jimenez bandwagon. Antonetti and the Indians were only able to acquire Jimenez because of his mechanical issues in 2011. A winter to regroup and Jimenez would be a different pitcher in 2012.
Unfortunately, Jimenez was a different pitcher, one that was nearly unwatchable at times. Even in the first half of the season, when he was competitive in games, he failed to get ahead of hitters and throw strikes consistently. During the second half, as the Indians’ season capsized and sank, Jimenez was the captain of the ship. He finished the year 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA. He led the American League in losses and wild pitches. He chased the Tribe’s franchise record for wild pitches and fell just short.
At some point, I jumped off the bandwagon. Later than most, but my hope in Jimenez—like most—is gone.
“The last two years have been really difficult for me,” Jimenez said earlier this spring on STO’s Spring Training Daily. “The one thing I can do is keep working every day. I have to work on my mechanics. That’s why I got back on the mound right away (this winter).”
After only a couple weeks into the offseason, Jimenez began working on his mechanics again. After Terry Francona filled out his coaching staff, he and new pitching coach Mickey Callaway travelled to the Dominican Republic to meet with Jimenez and examine his delivery. Callaway—Jimenez’s fourth pitching coach since being traded to Cleveland—returned a second time this winter to continue the work.
“We’re encouraging them to attack the strike zone,” Francona said during his daily press conference on Thursday. “There’s a difference in mindset between not throwing balls and attacking the plate. Guys understand that if they want to pitch innings with the game on the line, they have to hold runners, field their position and throw strikes. We’ve driven that home all spring.”
So far this spring, it appears Jimenez’s efforts have begun to pay off. With the exception of a third inning on Mar. 2 where it appeared he tired out, Jimenez has been effective. On Thursday, he pitched four innings against the World Champion San Francisco Giants, allowing only one run. He likely wouldn’t have allowed the one run, had Michael Bourn not lost Brandon Crawford’s fly ball in the Arizona sun. The play was ruled a triple and he later scored on Hunter Pence’s single. Regardless, Jimenez retired 11 of the 14 hitters he faced. Remove the one terrible inning against the Padres on Mar. 2 and the one run on Thursday is the only run he’s allowed over eight innings.
However, while some may be talking themselves in to believing that Jimenez has found the dominance he once demonstrated to defy the rare air of Colorado, I will remain guarded and off the bandwagon. Often coaches and players disregard the significance and struggles of Spring Training statistics. If it’s fair to disregard the pitfalls, it’s equally fair to take the success with a grain of salt.
Whatever happens with Jimenez this spring and into the regular season, it does appear the starting staff as a whole is much improved and getting ahead of pitchers. Better yet, in the competition for the final rotation spots, it appears several contenders are emerging as viable options. Zach McAllister seems to have taken a strangle hold of fourth spot and Scott Kazmir has impressed in the first half of camp. At this point, Kazmir is likely the frontrunner for the final spot.
But Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer have each thrown well. Carrasco had one nerve-wracking inning in his first outing against big league hitters since 2011 and Bauer has only walked one hitter in seven innings. He allowed three runs—two earned—in his last outing, his first surrendered this spring. While Carrasco and Bauer each have minor league options remaining, how long is the leash on Jimenez if they each shine in Triple-A while Jimenez falters?
Sending Jimenez to the minor leagues is not an option. Sending him to the bullpen is not likely. It’s tough to expect a pitcher to find control when they are not on a regular schedule. Long men can sometimes go a week or more without an appearance.
If Jimenez falters and other young pitchers shine, eventually the Indians will be forced to a tough decision if they hope to compete.
If Jimenez finds some consistency, he could be the catalyst to a surprising season of contention in the American League Central Division and beyond.
After a year and a half of struggles, however, just don’t look for me on the bandwagon anytime soon.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer