SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.: A smoldering dispute between Ubaldo Jimenez and his former employers, the Colorado Rockies and especially Troy Tulowitzki, exploded in the first inning of Sunday’s game, which the Indians won 12-10.
Jimenez was making his last start of the spring and unleashed a first-pitch fastball that struck Tulowitzki in the left elbow. Instantly, Jimenez began walking toward the plate, throwing up his hands as if to challenge the Rockies shortstop. Benches cleared but no punches were thrown, as Tulowitzki and Jimenez were separated.
“It’s a natural reaction, I guess,” manager Manny Acta said of players going after one another. “There was a lot of shouting. Nobody wants to back down.”
Jimenez insisted that Tulowitzki was hit by accident.
“I don’t think anything happened,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t have good control of my fastball. You could see I walked the first hitter. Tulowitzki is one of the best hitters in the game, and you have to go inside on him.”
Jimenez did walk the leadoff batter on four pitches but struck out the next hitter looking.
“The ball just got away from me,” Jimenez said. “I have no problem with him. I never talked about him, just the way the team treated me.”
Why did Jimenez react in a hostile manner after the pitch was thrown?
“If somebody calls me out, I have to go,” he said. “He called me a name. He called me chicken, but he didn’t say chicken. He used a really aggressive name. I never look for any trouble.”
When Jimenez was told that Tulowitzki was taken to a hospital for X-rays, he said, “Of course you’re sorry. You love to watch him play, and he is my ex-teammate. I don’t want him hurt at all.”
Jimenez became unhappy with the Rockies last year (he was traded to Cleveland in July) because Carlos Gonzalez and Tulowitzki were signed to multiyear deals worth $80 million and $134 million, respectively. Jimenez was contractually tied to the Rockies through 2014 for far less cash.
But Jimenez didn’t begin to talk publicly about his differences with the Rockies until two weeks ago, and Tulowitzki responded.
As quoted in the Denver Post, Tulowitzki said, “If someone doesn’t want to be here, we always say, “Please go to the manager and tell him you want to leave, or that you don’t think this is the place for you.’ That was kind of the case with him.”
Tulowitzki also chided Jimenez about criticizing the Rockies: “For him to come out and badmouth an organization that I have a lot of respect for and take a lot of pride in being here, yeah, you are going to get upset.”
Asked if he thought Jimenez hit Tulowitzki on purpose Acta said, “I don’t know if they have any history. They were teammates forever. You could see he struggled with his command. So I have no knowledge of anything.”
In the Colorado clubhouse, manager Jim Tracy was fuming.
“I think that’s the most unprofessional thing I’ve ever seen since I started in professional baseball,” he said. “I’m proud of Tulo. To get hit like that, the natural reaction is to charge the mound. It takes a world of presence of mind to realize the season is going to start and just stand there and stare, and the other guy is coming off the mound with intent.”
Jeremy Guthrie, who came up through the Tribe’s farm system, was the Rockies’ starting pitcher.
“The players are upset,” he said. “They gave Ubaldo too much credit that he would be professional.”
Cabrera sticking around?
Multiple internet reports indicate the Indians and Asdrubal Cabrera have agreed on a two-year contract extension worth $16.5 million.
The threat of arbitration drove Cabrera’s salary to $4.55 million this year. Without a multiyear deal, he will be eligible for arbitration again in 2013 and can become a free agent in 2014.
Manager Manny Acta said he had no knowledge of Cabrera agreeing to a new contract, saying, “Absolutely, I’d be happy for him and the franchise. It would be good to have him for the next two years without worrying about arbitration.”
None of the reporters present had mentioned that the alleged extension was for two years.
Offense, at last
Indians hitters delivered 15 hits, as the Tribe snapped a 10-game losing streak to beat the Rockies 12-10 at Salt River Fields.
Both Travis Hafner and Shelley Duncan blasted grand slams. Duncan has hit six home runs to lead the team. He also is No. 1 in RBI with 19. Hafner has three homers and 10 RBI during exhibition season.
In addition to the home run, Hafner doubled and singled to raise his average to .314.
“Hafner is ready to go,” manager Manny Acta said. “His timing is really, really good right now.”
Jimenez struggled in his final spring start, giving up six runs, four hits and five walks in 4· innings. He also allowed two home runs. For the spring, he has compiled a 7.43 earned-run average in 23 innings.
“I thought Ubaldo pitched behind in the count a lot,” Acta said. “He got to 86 pitches, but we wanted him to go farther in the game.”
Initially, the Indians refused the media permission to talk to Jimenez and the Rockies announced that Troy Tulowitzki would be unavailable after he was hit by a Jimenez fastball.
A Tribe official notified reporters by text message that it was the “organization’s decision, not Ubaldo’s” to wait a day for him to answer questions. But soon after that, the decision was retracted, and reporters were told to go to the visitors’ clubhouse, where Jimenez would be waiting.
The reason for the reversal: Jimenez wanted to face reporters immediately.
Less than three minutes later, eight media members were prevented by security from entering the clubhouse, and it took another phone call to reverse that decision that allegedly was made by the Salt River Fields facilities manager, who apparently feared that fans would attempt to attack Jimenez.
“They just want Jimenez to get out of here,” one club official said.
The Rockies announced that Tulowitzki was going to a hospital for X-rays on his left elbow, ending any chance he would talk.
Part of Jairo Asencio’s responsibilities will be to pitch in blowouts or if the starter gets hurt.
“He’s been told that he might be pitching multiple innings, at times it might even be three,” Acta said. “He’s a former starter, so it shouldn’t be a problem. And in the American League a guy in his role could go 10 days without pitching.”
The Indians play their final Arizona game of the spring this afternoon at Goodyear Ballpark against the Reds. Josh Tomlin will start against Bronson Arroyo, with Chris Perez, Tony Sipp, Dan Wheeler and Asencio set to come out of the bullpen.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.