Thursday, June 18, 2009
Rockies Take Series With Rays Behind Another Gem By Ubaldo Jimenez
Anyone who knows Ubaldo Jimenez knows that his boyhood hero is Pedro Martinez. Jimenez watched his fellow country man dominate opposing Major League hitters from his home in the Dominican Republic.
At 6'4" and 200 lbs, Jimenez hardly resembles the 5'9" Martinez. Their pitches however, are nearly a clone. In his hey day, Martinez could put so much movement on a 97 MPH fastball that defied physics. Jimenez, while still not as polished as his hero, may well be on his way to a similar type of career.
Six days after throwing nearly 130 pitches in a complete game against the Mariners, Jimenez took the mound and put together an absolute gem. With questions about where his velocity would be after the long outing, Jimenez continually popped catcher Paul Phillips glove with 97 and 98 MPH heat.
If the heat did not impress the Rays hitters, the movement on the fastball did. Jimenez's fastball had as much movement as it ever had, riding in on right handers and away from the lefties.
The Rockies offense was not intimidated by Rays starter, ALCS MVP Matt Garza. Clint Barmes launched a two out, two run homer in the third, immediately followed by a no-doubt-about-it home run to give the Rockies a 3-1 lead. They would score another insurance run, which would prove to be valuable, to help Jimenez to his sixth win.
Jimenez delivered another incredible outing going 6-2/3 innings, giving up six hits and one run while striking out seven and walking three. Once again, Jimenez cruised past the 100 pitch mark, throwing a total of 117 pitches before leaving to a standing ovation from the Coors Field crowd.
In his second full season in the big leagues Jimenez is turning the corner.
The 26 year-old has as much talent as anyone who pitches on a Major League mound. His fastball was the hardest on average of any pitcher in the league in 2008, his fastball is anything but straight. The fastball, however, is hardly his only pitch. He also mixes in a great curveball which keeps the batters off balance, and a split finger pitch that looks like a fastball until it drops off the table.
Jimenez has also figured out that to succeed he needs to keep the ball down. When he first arrived in the league, Jimenez, understandably would try and blow the fastball by all of the hitters. This led to trouble and Jimenez had to find out the hard way that Major Leaguers can hit the fastball if they know it is coming.
Learning from his teammate Aaron Cook, Jimenez has found success in not worrying about hitters putting the ball into play. The key is to make them put the ball on the ground instead of the air. That reduces the number of big hits the opposition can get, and always keeps a double play as a strong possibility. For Jimenez it is a powerful weapon because when he does need a strikeout he has the potential to get it at any time.
Early on in 2009 it was questionable if Jimenez was going to find himself and turn the corner, becoming more than a potential talent and turn into an All-Star caliber pitcher.
Jimenez has closed the mouths of his critics in June pitching no less than 6-2/3 innings in any of his starts and picking up four wins.
The maturity that Jimenez has shown is exciting for the Rockies. The talent that he has shown suggests that Jimenez will quickly become the teams next ace, and after signing a deal that takes him through 2014, fans will have the ability to watch Jimenez dominate opposing batters for years to come.
It will be a huge surprise if Jimenez does not find his way to an All-Star game in the next couple of years.
The win on Thursday did not come without drama. After Manny Corpas continued his resurgence in the eighth inning, Huston Street provided some stress. He gave up base hits to BJ Upton and Carl Crawford both singled, which brought the dangerous third baseman Evan Longoria to the plate. After working the count to 2-2, Longoria chased a slider in the dirt, recording the first out. Then came Carlos Pena, who Street also struck out after running the count full.
Street was not out of the woods however, as Ben Zobrist dropped a ball into center field, scoring both runs and getting the Rays within a run and putting the tying run at first base.
The reigning N.L. Player of the Week was not about to fold. After getting behind 2-1, Gross lined a ball right at second baseman Clint Barmes to end the threat. It was Street's 15th save of the season.