GOODYEAR, Ariz.: It’s difficult to imagine the Indians staying in the Central Division race without help from Ubaldo Jimenez, but is it realistic to think the high-profile starter will turn his fortunes around?
It would be one thing if Jimenez needed to raise his game from, say, a C to a B. But it is clear from virtually every pitching statistic that he was among the most ineffective starters in the American League last year.
An overstatement? Hardly. Check out the numbers.
His 9-17 record led to the second-worst winning percentage (.346) in the league. His ERA of 5.40 was third from the bottom, and he issued the second most walks (95) and hits (190). Jimenez threw more wild pitches than any of his American League lodge brothers (16), and he used more pitches per inning (17.7) than any pitcher in the AL.
How do you fix all of that?
Jimenez gave the same answer this spring that he gave all of last season: mechanics.
“I think I have to get my mechanics ready before I leave town,” he said. “Last year, they were definitely different [out of kilter]. But now I think they’re pretty much the same as when I pitched good.”
The last time Jimenez pitched well, he pitched spectacularly well. From the outset of the 2010 season through June 17, Jimenez compiled a 13-1 record and 1.15 ERA for the Colorado Rockies.
During this stretch of starts, he struck out an average of almost eight batters per nine innings and walked an average of 3.2 per nine innings. He allowed only 65 hits in 101⅓ innings and delivered a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves in April.
Jimenez ran his record to 15-1 by July 8, but by then he had already begun to slip backward. Through the rest of the season, he won only four more games and lost seven, and he hasn’t been the same since.
It would have been virtually impossible to maintain the level of dominance Jimenez displayed in the first half of 2010, but the contrast between his performance level then and the depths to which he fell last year are no less incomprehensible.
As far as anyone knows, Jimenez has not been plagued by an injury. According to him and two managers (Manny Acta last season and Terry Francona now), it’s mechanics.
“We don’t want him to change his mechanics,” Francona said. “His mechanics never were textbook, what you see in the manual. We want him to throw downhill, not this way [Francona moves his palm from side to side].”
In other words, there will be no effort to overhaul the way Jimenez throws; he needs an adjustment to get back to the way he threw in 2010.
“Part of what makes guys good is deception,” Francona said. “You clean him up [drastically alter his delivery], and he can’t get anyone out.”
After watching Jimenez throw a bullpen session Saturday, Francona said: “I’m very happy. He pounded the ball down, and he had a little more rhythm to his delivery.”
What made Jimenez special for the Rockies was his fastball. He routinely threw 96-97 miles per hour when he was dominating hitters. Since being acquired in a trade by the Tribe midway through the 2011 season, his usual fastball has approached the plate at 91-93 mph; seldom has it reached the upper 90s.
So what has happened to Jimenez’s fastball? You guessed it: mechanics.
“Last year, I spent the first two months working on my mechanics,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do. It was tough, because I couldn’t figure it out.”
Acta last year and now Francona say it was not for a lack of trying. If Jimenez has resisted the advice of his coaches, nobody has been willing to admit it.
“He showed up in great shape,” Francona said. “He’s very conscientious.”
Adds Jimenez, “Whatever they ask me to do, I just do it.”
Because he began to have issues with the Rockies’ management, he was happy to be traded to Cleveland. He still insists that the Indians suit him.
“Since I got here, I feel like I want to be here for a long time,” he said. “I feel comfortable here.”
Jimenez has additional motivation for getting his act together. This is the final guaranteed year of his contract, worth $5.75 million this season. The Tribe holds an $8 million option for 2014, which it certainly won’t exercise if he doesn’t upgrade his game significantly.
Whether the option comes into play or Jimenez becomes a free agent, his performance will dictate how well he is compensated.
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.