Friday, July 17, 2009

Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez Still Has To Turn The Corner

In the offseason the Rockies front office was wise enough to lock down budding young pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a long-term deal. They locked him up for four years with two additional years as option years for the team. The deal is worth $10 million for Jimenez.

The 25 year-old throws harder than any pitcher in the league. His fastball routinely hits 98 miles per hour, and has movement, a lethal combination for any hitter. The men with the bats cannot just sit on the fastball however, as Jimenez throws a devastating curveball to go along with a change up that drops off the table.

On paper Jimenez has as much talent as any pitcher in the league. At his age he should be thought of as the next great right hander. Yet, Jimenez is still not a dominant pitcher.

Despite winning his seventh game of the season on Friday night, Jimenez was unable to shut down the Padres. He pitched seven innings, giving up only three runs while striking out 10 and walking four. The line looks good for Jimenez, it qualifies as a quality start and goes in the win column. However, it was not as pretty as the Rockies have been hoping for at this point in Jimenez’s career.

In the top of the fifth inning, with the Rockies winning 3-1 and two men aboard, Ian Stewart ripped a two-run double off the right field wall, making the score 5-1. For all intents and purposes, the game should have been over.

After being given a four run lead in the fifth inning a dominant starter who throws as hard as Jimenez should shut the opponent down. Instead Jimenez went back out on the mound and gave up two runs to let the Padres back into the game. The first run came because Jimenez gave up a two out walk before Everth Cabrera ripped a triple into the right-center gap.

A week and a half ago at home against Arizona Jimenez brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning. His offense had given him a 3-0 lead against Dan Haren, the National League ERA leader. With no-hit stuff, Jimenez looked like he would easily help the Rockies to a series win. Instead, Jimenez walked two batters with two outs in the sixth, then gave up a game-tying three run home run to Mark Reynolds.

Jimenez has more talent than anyone could ever dream of having. For three years now he has lived with the label of “will be a great pitcher.” As a number two pitcher in the Rockies rotation and with his level of talent, Jimenez should have already shed the “will be” part of his label.

The problem for the 6′4″ righty is that he tries to get too cute much of the time. Instead of trusting his stuff and challenging hitters at the plate he tries to nibble on the corners with his offspeed pitch.

A game like Friday night’s should have been automatic for Jimenez. He had a four run lead in the fifth inning and had been pitching well. Instead of throwing a steady diet of hard fastballs, challenging hitters to hit solo home runs, Jimenez started to miss the strike zone and walk hitters. When he starts to walk hitters, he is forced to throw hitters-pitches to the batter, which gets him in trouble.

There is little doubt that Jimenez will eventually become a complete pitcher. He is a smart young man who is still learning to be a pitcher instead of just being a thrower. The fact that Jimenez can not have his best stuff, and still go out and throw seven innings and give up only three runs, then the Rockies have something good on their hands.

When Jimenez does turn the corner, Rockies opponents will be looking at the schedule a week in advance to see if they will have to face the righty.

Until then, Jimenez will have to continue to grow and mature as a pitcher in the big leagues. His next step is figuring out how to walk less hitters and believe in his stuff.

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