CLEVELAND: Is it possible that moving from the middle of the pitching rubber to one side could be responsible for turning around a pitcher’s season, maybe even his career?
That’s the one change that Ubaldo Jimenez can point to in his past three starts, two victories and a no-decision that was won by the Indians. In those three outings, Jimenez posted a 3.06 ERA, walked an average of 3.1 per nine innings and struck out an average of 8.1 per nine innings.
Compare that with his first three games of 2013, in which he was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA, averaging 7.45 walks and 8.25 strikeouts per nine innings.
Jimenez has worked with pitching coach Mickey Callaway on a number of mechanical adjustments, but one thing that Callaway stressed was making sure that Jimenez’s landing foot was pointed directly toward the plate when he finished his delivery. Too often, Jimenez’s foot would be aimed toward the first-base side of home plate.
Whatever else Jimenez might have tried, what seems to work is winding up with his foot a few inches to the third-base side of the rubber.
“I’ve been trying to start my delivery from there,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “But sometimes I forget. When I start a little to the right, it keeps me from pulling off.”
As Jimenez noted, when his landing foot is not pointed directly at the plate, it looks like he might be trying to throw to first base. That’s somewhat of an exaggeration, but when he is not squared up to the plate, his pitches tend to wander away from the strike zone.
Jimenez didn’t alter his foot placement in spring training or when the season began.
“I started doing this after my second bad outing,” he said.
Can a seemingly minor change make a huge impact on a pitcher’s success? In addition to the aforementioned statistics, Jimenez has thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes since making the change. Before moving his foot a few inches on the rubber, Jimenez threw 57 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Only time will tell if the adjustment causes a permanent spike in Jimenez’s achievement level, but he has won two games in a row for the first time since May 16 and May 22 of 2012, when he beat the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers, respectively.
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.