Beacon Journal sports writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.: When Ubaldo Jimenez was 15, his coaches had to set him straight.
Jimenez, who will start today against the New York Yankees, had fun playing the outfield and hitting. Pitching was something others could do. He had no interest in throwing to hitters.
“I didn’t like to pitch,” he said. “But they made me pitch. I used to love playing center field. I just wanted to catch fly balls. I still like to go out and shag. But they told me that if I wanted to go pro, I would have to pitch.”
It’s probably not much of an exaggeration to say that every young boy in the Dominican Republic wants to play in the big leagues. Jimenez was no different, but unlike most kids, Jimenez had the skill to make a run at a baseball career.
But it would not be as an outfielder for obvious reasons. His coaches were not being arbitrary when they told him he wouldn’t make it as a position player.
“I couldn’t hit, and I couldn’t run,” Jimenez said. “I used to hit sixth or seventh in the lineup.”
Jimenez’s asset was his big arm.
“When I played center field,” he said, “most of the guys who tried to run on me would be out.”
So Jimenez began to pitch when he was 15. He did not have anyone like Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to help him. He had a role model instead.
“When I started to pitch I watched Pedro Martinez, and I copied him,” Jimenez said.
As a native of the Dominican and arguably the best pitcher in baseball 20 years ago, Martinez was THE MAN to Dominican teenagers.
So whatever mechanical adjustments Jimenez has been making the past year, it all started with Martinez. In his first start this season, Jimenez pitched six innings and gave up one run, so maybe something is clicking.
“I was able to adjust my mechanics, so I feel more comfortable,” he said. “Last year, everything was wrong. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no command of my fastball, so my breaking ball was not there, either.”
Today will be the second test for Jimenez’s revised delivery.