CLEVELAND: The Ubaldo Jimenez doubters – and they are legion – will have to wait at least until his next start to continue making their case.
Sunday was a day to celebrate Jimenez’s talents, which he often hides under a deluge of walks and damaging hits. That was not the Ubaldo Jimenez who pitched for the Indians Sunday, when the Tribe defeated the Rangers 4-2 at Progressive Field.
In his most adept start of the season, Jimenez delivered seven scoreless innings, giving up two hits, walking five and striking out six using a relatively modest 107 pitches (61 for strikes). Yes, he issued too many walks – three in one inning after two were out – but this time they didn’t cost Jimenez anything but a few more pitches.
“This proved you don’t have to throw 99 [mph] to get people out,” manager Manny Acta said. “You have to throw strikes. Ubaldo’s curveball was the best I’ve seen it. He pitched with confidence and flair. He dominated the right-handed hitters, who were 0-for-15, and he went deep in the game.”
Throwing enough strikes was the obvious key for Jimenez (3-2, 4.04 ERA).
“I was able to command my fastball and throw all my pitches for strikes,” he said.
Early in the game, Jimenez’s fastball was clocking 94-95 mph on the radar gun. He didn’t throw as hard later in the game, when he relied more on his curve, slider and changeup, all of which kept the hard-swinging Rangers off balance.
Jimenez was facing a lineup that doesn’t wait for pitchers to go deep in the count; they are up there hacking, and that undoubtedly played into Jimenez’s pitching style.
“They aren’t going to change because of me,” he said. “They want to do some damage.”
Jimenez has been working on the side to alter the movement of his left arm, and apparently the lessons are starting to stick.
“We’ve seen progress. It just hasn’t shown up in his numbers,” Acta said. “The adjustment he’s been making was put in place two weeks ago. We knew it was going to take a couple of starts to show up and that was today.”
It would be overstating the truth to say that Jimenez was beginning to lose his confidence after an erratic start to the season. But there’s no question that he was concerned with his lack of consistent success.
“Every now and then, you need to be able to breathe and feel good and be part of the team,” Jimenez said. “For sure [I was worried], but I never put my head down. I just tried to work hard every single day. It definitely feels good when you have a good game.”
The Tribe didn’t muster much offense against touted Japanese starter Yu Darvish, who allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits and four walks, while striking out 11 in six innings.
His undoing came in the third inning, when Johnny Damon led off by hitting a routine pop fly to Ian Kinsler at second. But there was one problem: Kinsler lost the ball in the sun and it dropped for a single.
Darvish walked the next batter, Jason Kipnis, and Asdrubal Cabrera slapped a hard ground ball just inside the right-field line for a two-run double. Two strikeouts later, Shin-Soo Choo grounded to short, and Elvis Andrus threw the ball over the head of Michael Young at first to bring home the third run of the inning.
As Acta said: “We got another sun ball. We scored just enough.”
In the fifth, Kipnis led off with his fifth home run of the season to help the Indians hang on at the end.
“Darvish has strikeout stuff,” Kipnis said. “But he was getting behind in the count on me [Kipnis walked twice], and he threw a fastball to get back in the count. It was pretty much over the plate.”
Kipnis said he had been overswinging like a man bent on going deep.
“As soon as you stop trying,” he said, “you do it.”
It was déjà vu all over again, when pinch hitter Adrian Beltre flied to Choo in the ninth. On Friday night, Choo chased down Beltre’s drive to the right-field wall, making a leaping catch for the third out of the ninth.
There was a different twist to Sunday’s catch, as Choo took a step back then had to make a mad dash toward the infield and execute a diving, rolling catch to wrap for the second out of the inning with a runner on first.
“I thought about Friday night, when he hit the ball over my head,” Choo said. “That’s why I took one step back. If I don’t make this catch, the game would have changed.”
Instead, the Tribe won a series against the Rangers for the first time since Aug. 22-24, 2008, when the Wannabe Wahoos swept a three-game set in Arlington.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.