By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CHICAGO: Ubaldo Jimenez probably has pitched his way back into consideration as an Indians’ starter in 2014.
But because General Manager Chris Antonetti isn’t giving any hints about his offseason plans, it’s difficult to say for certain.
Jimenez can become a free agent in the fall unless both he and the club agree to exercise an $8 million mutual option. At the outset of this season, few observers thought there was any chance of that happening.
Why? Because in 2012, Jimenez arguably was the most ineffective starter in the American League. Not only did he lead the league in losses with 17, his 5.40 ERA was third from the bottom, he allowed the most stolen bases (32), threw the most wild pitches (16) and issued the second most walks (95).
The pitcher who racked up all of those dubious achievements is nowhere to be seen this season. Jimenez is 12-9 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts. In his past 10, his ERA is a scintillating 1.83.
The loudest complaint about Jimenez has been that he seldom lasts longer than five innings. But that grievance has lost validity. In his past six starts, he is averaging 6⅔ innings.
“Some guys are limping to the finish line,” manager Terry Francona said. “He is not.”
So where does Jimenez want to be in 2014?
“I would like to stay,” he said. “I still like it here. Everybody has been so good to me. But I know it’s a business, and they have a lot of pitching prospects.”
There will be plenty of competition in spring training for spots in the rotation. At the moment, eight starters are possible contenders: Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and, possibly, Scott Kazmir in addition to Jimenez.
One decision facing Antonetti is whether to sign free-agent-to-be Kazmir or Jimenez or both.
A big reason for Jimenez’ 180-degree turnaround has been pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
“When you go to a new team there are a lot of expectations,” Jimenez said. “The expectations for me were to throw hard.”
Before Jimenez was traded to the Tribe midway thought the 2011 season, he was known for delivering 98-mph fastballs, which were not evident after he got to Cleveland.
“Mickey talked about getting people out, not throwing hard,” Jimenez said.
Various theories have been put forth as to why Jimenez’s fastball no longer skirts 100 mph; the bottom line is that his fastball has settled into the 93-94 mph range, at times rising to 96.
“When Ubaldo stopped throwing 98, he was afraid to throw his fastball for strikes,” Callaway said.
That was a mistake, and Callaway patiently got through to Jimenez that his fastball was a lethal pitch, even at the reduced velocity.
“What we wanted was to make him a hybrid of the guy he was in Colorado [throwing 98] and what he is now,” Callaway said. “In his last five bullpens, he’s thrown only fastballs, to get him used to working his other pitches off the fastball.”
Last year, Jimenez wanted to throw all of his pitches in relatively equal proportion. He was under-using his fastball, allowing hitters to zero in on his breaking ball and off-speed pitches.
“He still throws a lot of off-speed pitches,” Callaway said, “but he’s throwing more fastballs and sticking with the one off-speed pitch that’s working well that day.”
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.