Starting on Friday night, the Rockies play 10 straight games against the Giants and Dodgers. Those 10 games could make or break the 2009 season. However, before the team can get to those games, they must not look past the Nationals.
Having a good series in the nation's capital could go a long way for building a cushion going into the weekend series with the Giants. The Rockies got off to a good start on Tuesday.
With Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound for the visitors, the Rockies were confident that they could take the first game of the series. Jimenez did not disappoint. He went eight innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits, while walking only one and striking out five hitters.
Jimenez did make the Rockies nervous. As seems to be standard for the righty, Jimenez had one very shaky inning. In the second inning after getting two outs, Jimenez gave up an RBI double to Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen. With the score tied, Jimenez failed to bare down and get the final out. Instead he gave up a base hit to Niger Morgan, scoring Stammen from second base. In the inning Jimenez threw 28 pitches.
If the Nationals had any ideas of a blowout win after a rough inning they needed to think twice.
Jimenez came out in the third inning and looked like a completely different pitcher. While he threw several pitches in the third, he was not scored upon. Then in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, Jimenez was nearly unhittable, throwing less than 10 pitches in two of those innings.
After throwing his 100th pitch in the seventh inning, it looked as if Jimenez would be done for the night, leaving the game tied at two. However, manager Jim Tracy chose to let Jimenez throw the eighth inning as well, which Jimenez proved to be a good choice by getting the Nationals in order.
In the top of the eighth, Carlos Gonzalez led off with a shot deep into the Nationals bullpen in right field. It was his seventh of the season and third in the last three games.
After giving up three hits and a run, Huston Street got Ryan Zimmerman to pop out to left field to secure his 30th save of the season.
While Gonzalez has turned into quite the story for the Rockies, Jimenez stole the show on Tuesday.
This game was a prime example of how good Ubaldo Jimenez really is. Early on it looked like it could be a long night for Jimenez. He could not hit his spots and was getting into trouble.
When a pitcher has the ability to throw 100 MPH, he should never give up a hit to a pitcher. Even though Stammen is not a horrible hitter for a pitcher, he has a .222 batting average in his rookie year, he is still a pitcher.
Jimenez needed to attack the zone and challenge him to get a hit. Instead, he tried to nibble around the strike zone and throw off speed pitches. The result was a line drive down the right field line, scoring a run.
When Jimenez believes in his pitches, it usually results in good things. He can throw a two-seamed fastball at 97 MPH that moves from one side of the plate to the other. No matter how good a hitter is, the only way that they are going to hit that pitch is if they guess and happen to catch the barrel on the ball.
The scary thing about how good Jimenez is, is that he is still learning how to pitch. He has not figured out the nuances of the game the way that his teammates Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis have. He is still, to a certain degree, a thrower. When he learns how to pitch to individual hitters and figures out their weaknesses Jimenez will find himself firmly entrenched in Cy Young races for years to come.
As Jimenez develops, so does his confidence, which really will play into him figuring out how to pitch. He is going to be a prized talent in this league. The scary thing about watching Jimenez is that he is able to be an 11 game winner in August and still be nowhere near his potential.