HOUSTON: Indians fans are incensed about the way Ubaldo Jimenez is pitching.
Actually, it’s more personal than that. Fans are outraged, positively livid, at Jimenez, a soft-spoken, polite, friendly guy who has run into a little rough patch.
OK, maybe it’s not a little rough patch.
Since he arrived in Cleveland after being traded by the Colorado Rockies midway through the 2011 season, Jimenez has posted a 13-23 record and 5.60 ERA, averaging 9.6 hits and 4.7 walks per nine innings.
If that set of statistics doesn’t trigger a spike in your blood pressure, someone figured out that since July 14, Jimenez is 1-12 with a 7.27 ERA in 17 starts.
Those numbers are enough to give bad a good name. That is, Jimenez would have to upgrade his performance level considerably just to ascend to bad.
But within that messy stretch of starts, Jimenez pitched four times without getting a decision and actually won once. In those five outings, he compiled a 1.82 ERA.
I bring up these positive numbers to demonstrate why the fans are so angry. If Jimenez were a complete dud without an ounce of talent, Tribe partisans wouldn’t be so exorcised about his lousy pitching.
But it’s obvious that Jimenez has the ability to be the pitcher that threw a no-hitter and unleashed 98 mile-per-hour fastballs, terrorizing hitters in the first half of 2010, when he still called Colorado home.
So it’s quite natural for the fans to deliver a chorus of boos when Jimenez is removed from a game after giving up seven runs in 1⅔ innings, as he did in his last start.
Suggestions from the sporting public have been a little harsh: release him; trade him for Aaron Cunningham or even Richie Cunningham; make him listen to his favorite music on an eight-track tape player; or force him to trade jobs with Slider.
Most fans want to ship Jimenez to the minors, not to Triple-A but the lowest Class A team in the farm system, someplace where the players have to walk to road games.
Since Jimenez is out of options, he would have to clear waivers to be outrighted to a minor-league team. And there is no way, no way he wouldn’t be claimed. That’s no way.
Every general manager at least occasionally gets it in his head that a player’s former club mishandled the guy but “we will straighten him out.”
What if the Indians were to lose Jimenez to another team? It might not end up costing the Tribe anything. On the other hand, what if someone found the magic formula to turn him around? Keep in mind that somewhere in the recesses of Jimenez’s brain is the key to bringing forth his talent.
This is not a flaw in Jimenez’s mechanics but a flaw in his thinking. Mental barriers express themselves in physical terms, so Jimenez flies open or throws across his body or doesn’t deliver pitches downhill toward the plate. But the source of the problem is in his head. That is why his problems have been so difficult to fix.
Baseball people are not psychologists. Sure, there are managers and coaches who can motivate players, but rummaging through a player’s emotional junk and finding the offending set of thoughts or feelings is not something on-field staffers are equipped to do. That’s why they approach pitching collapses by changing a grip or moving to the other side of the mound, altering an arm angle or a changing a pitcher’s footwork.
It might be beneficial for Jimenez and the Tribe to send him to the minors. The environment would be less pressurized, and Jimenez might find a comfort level that allowed him to adjust his thinking and his delivery. But a trip to the farm system is out.
Believe it or not, Jimenez will have to pitch even worse for an extended period to induce the Indians to let him walk away. Keep in mind that players are a team’s inventory; presumably, all of them have value. At the moment, Jimenez’ value is low, but if he put together as few as two effective starts in a row or three out of four, he would become a viable commodity.
Consequently, the drill is for pitching Mickey Callaway to continue working with Jimenez in his bullpen sessions, watch video and probe his mind to try to determine what is making him tick, or rather, why his clock is going in the wrong direction. At this point in the season, there are no other realistic alternatives.
Fans can wail and moan, but manager Terry Francona and General Manager Chris Antonetti have to deal with reality. Granted, the trade never should have happened in the first place, and that is not a second guess. If a player with Jimenez’s obvious skills and youth is put on the market, that in itself is a red flag.
But the transaction is over and done with. It happened almost two years ago. The Tribe must try to make the best of the situation. For now, that means attempting to fix Jimenez. The good news for the team is that there are replacements in the pipeline, not now but maybe a month or two from now.
Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco are viable alternatives. These starters have live arms but need to learn their craft. Maybe it will take weeks, maybe months, but at some point in the season one or both might be ready to take the next step and pitch in the big leagues.
Jimenez knows that, too. He also knows that he probably will be a free agent when the season is over. It is not his choice to rank near the bottom of American League starting pitchers. If nothing else, the possibility of dealing with free agency as a failed pitcher two years running is a strong motivating factor.
In the end, it has to be Jimenez, himself, who overhauls his thinking and then his delivery. Francona and Callaway will do their best to lead him in the right direction, but Jimenez is the guy responsible for his own career.
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.