CLEVELAND: It’s time to take Ubaldo Jimenez seriously. Opposing hitters already are.
Jimenez led the way in the Indians’ 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday by throwing eight scoreless innings to lift his record to 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA in his past seven starts.
“The biggest guy today was Ubaldo,” said Jason Giambi, who led the attack with a two-run homer and an RBI single. “It was a huge lift for us to see him come out like that.”
Jimenez allowed a double and three singles that never left the infield. Luke Scott bunted his way on when he noticed that the defense had shifted far from third base, and Yunel Escobar and Jose Molinas reached on slow ground balls.
The only hit struck with authority belonged to Desmond Jennings, who whacked a double to the right-field fence in the seventh inning.
Jimenez walked only one and struck out seven, using 108 pitches efficiently.
“On a day when only two people weren’t tired — the starting pitchers — Ubaldo gave us every bit of what was needed,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Fatigue was a popular topic. Giambi described being weary “like Pinocchio without the strings.”
The reason was obvious: Friday night the Tribe was pounded 9-2 by the Rays in a game interrupted four times by showers, delays totaling 4 hours, 39 minutes, with the final pitch coming at 2:53 a.m.
As the starting pitcher of a day game after a night game, Jimenez was invited to go home.
“I went home at 8:30 to go to bed, but I stayed up for the first four innings,” he said, by which time the Rays held a 5-0 lead.
Four innings were enough to ruin the sleep of a casual Tribe partisan, let alone a member of the team. Moreover, the fourth inning didn’t conclude until after 1 a.m.
“I felt really good today, but then I walked the leadoff guy,” Jimenez said. “I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ But I got the second guy out, and everything was good after that.”
And everything stayed good, even in the eighth inning, when Jimenez gave up the infield hit to Molina, had a 2-0 count on Escobar and received a visit from pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
What did he want?
“The first thing he said was throw a double-play ball,” Jimenez said. “He told me, ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do it or what pitch to throw, but just get a double play.’ ”
Jimenez (4-3, 4.83 ERA) wasn’t sure whether Callaway was joking.
“I was kind of in the middle,” he said.
At any rate, Jimenez took his coach’s advice to heart and threw a sinker that Escobar slapped to third baseman Mike Aviles, who started a double play.
Jimenez can do special things because he no longer is worrying.
“Right now, I’m just thinking about getting hitters out,” he said. “I’m pitching with what I have, not with what I had before. I’m not throwing 98 or 99 like I used to, but my fastball gets to 94, and all my pitches move.”
Various pitching coaches have tried to tinker with Jimenez’s mechanics the past three years, but only Callaway has been successful, insisting that he make one important adjustment.
“It all starts with his direction to the plate,” Francona said of Callaway’s advice to Jimenez.
To wit: When Jimenez completes his delivery, his front foot should be aimed at home plate.
“I’ve been doing it most of the time,” he said. “But I don’t always do it right. He’s the first one who told me that. Other pitching coaches would work on things like my shoulder or something else.”
Tribe batsmen were facing a relative novice, Chris Archer, who made his big-league debut last year but was called up on Saturday from Triple-A Durham.
Archer was drafted by the Indians in 2006 but was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with minor-league pitchers Jeff Stevens and John Gaub for Mark DeRosa in December of 2008. The Rays got him in the deal that sent Matt Garza to Chicago in 2011.
“My first pitch, he threw 98, so I’m thinking, ‘You have to throw me a change-up,’ ” Giambi said. “I was able to square it up [for the home run], but the kid has got a big future.”
Nick Swisher put the hit in perspective.
“Big G gives the greatest hugs,” he said. “He hits the home run, and he’s the one who picks everybody up in the dugout.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.