CLEVELAND: The Indians’ most frustrating conundrum took an unexpected turn on Sunday.
Ubaldo Jimenez pitched lights out.
Just when the Tribe may have been ready to discuss sending the 28-year-old right-hander to the minors for a wake-up call, Jimenez put together the mechanical adjustment he’s been working on for two weeks.
In a 4-2 victory at Progressive Field, he pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed only two hits to the American League West-leading Texas Rangers, who have a lineup loaded with Bash Brothers who run on natural fuel.
Right-handed hitters went 0-for-15 against Jimenez. He struck out six, with designated hitter Mitch Moreland the only lefty succumbing. Catcher Carlos Santana said Jimenez’ fastball, changeup and breaking ball were all working. Manager Manny Acta said Jimenez’s curveball was the best he’s seen.
He had only one hiccup, in the third, when he gave up three of his five walks and loaded the bases with two out. That inning required 2 ½ trips to the mound for Santana and one for Acta.
“Both guys speak Spanish, but I wanted to make sure we were getting the right message across,” Acta said.
Santana said Acta asked Jimenez a couple of questions and said, “I want to win.”
Jimenez said nothing was said in the strategy-dominated conversation, all in Spanish, that couldn’t be printed in a family newspaper.
“He just gave us some advice and it worked,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez got out of the jam, inducing cleanup hitter Michael Young to ground out to short. When Jimenez and Santana returned to the dugout, a television camera showed Acta speaking to both of them again.
After that, Jimenez allowed only a leadoff double in the fourth and walked just one. In the sixth, he needed only seven pitches to retire the side. After Jimenez picked up his first victory at home, Acta called Jimenez “terrific.”
“He pitched with some confidence and some flair after the first three innings, changing arm angles and things like that,” Acta said. “It’s good to see him do that. I’m sure in five days, he’s going to feel much better about himself.”
Jimenez (3-2, 4.04) said he needed an outing like this for encouragement.
“Every now and then, you need to be able to breathe at least, be able to feel good, be able to feel part of the team, be able to help the team, the bullpen, so it feels really good,” he said.
Too good to be true?
As good as Jimenez was, his performance didn’t solve anything.
Was Sunday progress? Or merely a tease?
Is he taking to heart the Indians’ suggestions to alter his unorthodox mechanics? Or was he just listening this week?
Are Jimenez’s 97-mph fastballs endangered merely because he wants to show off his other pitches? Or is there a physical reason he rarely challenges the radar gun?
Is the dominating pitcher of the first half of 2010 with the Colorado Rockies still in there? Or has he left the planet?
The only thing that seemed certain was that Acta, General Manager Chris Antonetti and President Mark Shapiro also got a needed breather. Acta conceded he felt relief.
“We have seen progress, it’s just that it doesn’t show in the numbers and that’s what we’re looking for,” Acta said. “I know he wants to perform well and we all want to see him do well and see some of the progress translate on the field. Today we saw that. We saw how he was able to maintain the velocity and reach back whenever he wanted to and be around the zone more often.”
Pressure from every angle
In recent days, Jimenez’s woes have been as highly debated as what the Browns should do with quarterback Colt McCoy. Jimenez is well aware that he’s become a media denizen.
“The way I started the season, it hasn’t been good. I only pitched the first game that was good and one in Oakland and after that, I’ve been struggling,” he said. “There’s not a lot of positives things to say out there, so I stay away.”
He could also be facing pressure from his family. His said his parents are staying with him, along with “their little baby.” Others are watching back in the Dominican Republic.
“I’m sure my sister, brother-in-law and nieces were probably standing in front of the TV the whole time,” he said.
If Jimenez flops, last year’s July 31 trade that saw the Indians send top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to the Rockies will be a total organizational failure. A failure of the scouting department, which may not have fully identified the depth of Jimenez’s problems. A failure of the front office for giving up so much and naively or arrogantly assuming the pitcher’s issues could be fixed. A failure of the manager and his staff for not finding a way to get through to Jimenez, either about his mechanics or his state of affairs upstairs.
Jimenez earned the right to bask in the glow of beating a Rangers team that has been in the World Series the past two years. But it’s much too soon to call it serious progress.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.