CLEVELAND: When Ubaldo Jimenez pitches, Ubaldo Jimenez is the story.
He was the talk of the town when the Tribe acquired him from the Colorado Rockies last July for its two most promising minor-league pitchers, and Jimenez remains the most discussed player on the roster.
And so he was Wednesday night, as the Indians beat the Seattle Mariners 9-3 at Progressive Field.
On this day, the analysis of Jimenez’s outing was positive, as he kept the damage to three runs, five hits and two walks in six innings. He threw a few too many pitches (107) but that might be a quibble on a night when he didn’t walk the house and kept the Mariners’ biggest rally to two runs.
“I thought this was the best I’ve seen Ubaldo throw so far this season,” Indians manager Manny Acta said, “and that’s including the seven-inning no-hitter against Toronto.
“He looked very confident out there, and he threw 16-of-24 first-pitch strikes. His velocity picked up, and he was able to throw all his pitches.”
Jimenez (4-3, 5.09 ERA) was shaky early but by the fourth inning he had calmed the waters, retiring nine of the final 11 batters he faced.
“From the first inning on I was able to attack the strike zone,” Jimenez said. “It’s all about the mechanics. Tonight I was able to put it all together.”
But it appeared that the first inning might turn to disaster when Jimenez gave up a leadoff single to Dustin Ackley and a hit to Michael Saunders, putting runners on first and third with nobody out. Not to worry. Ichiro Suzuki’s ground out scored Ackley, but Jesus Montero struck out and Kyle Seager flied out.
Two innings later, the Mariners took advantage of a leadoff walk to Brendan Ryan, who trotted home on Ackley’s third home run of the year. When Jimenez walked Saunders — who stole second — it looked like the Mariners might be settling in for a long rally.
But Jimenez retired Suzuki on a liner to left, and Montero lifted a foul fly to Casey Kotchman at first. Kotchman checked Saunders and noted that he had strayed far from the second-base bag — for no good reason — and doubled him up to end the inning.
Jimenez has yet to string successful appearances together, and nobody is willing to predict what his next start might bring.
“Now, I have to be able to be consistent,” he said.
Added Acta, “So we’ll see where this takes us now.”
The Tribe attack did a superb job of greasing the skids for former Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, who threw eight shutout innings against the Indians on April 19 in Seattle.
He gave up eight runs, 10 hits and three walks in only 3⅔ innings Wednesday night, though he got absolutely no help from his defense in the laughable first inning, when the Indians scored four times with two runs being unearned, because of a throwing error by the catcher, Montero, and an errant throw by left fielder Chone Figgins on the same play.
But Hernandez did plenty to sink his own ship, giving up five doubles and a towering solo homer to Travis Hafner, who snapped an 0-for-25 skid with runners in scoring position, dating to April 23, with an RBI double in the fourth.
“Somebody told me that, and I was surprised to hear it,” Hafner said. “I thought I was swinging the bat pretty well. But I’m glad that the streak has been broken.”
Shin-Soo Choo, leading off for the third consecutive game, singled twice, doubled and scored two runs. Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley and Hafner each had two hits.
Acta shifted Choo to the leadoff spot until (if) Johnny Damon got his act together. But it’s possible that the move might be more permanent (seldom is anything really permanent in baseball).
“We’ll see where this takes us,” Acta said, “It depends on everybody else in the lineup. A few years ago, we didn’t have Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana to produce runs. Now, we can move guys around in the lineup more because of them.”
Acta was pleased the way his team approached Hernandez, who has a devastating change-up.
“Any time you get four runs off him, you feel like you have a chance,” Acta said. “Then we tacked on four more runs.”
Added Hafner, “We just got good pitches to hit, and for the most part, we were able to lay off his off-speed pitches.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. 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.