Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ubaldo Jimenez Is Finding His Confidence And Becoming A True Ace

In the last week the Rockies have made a flurry of trades that have helped address the bullpen issues. They brought in Rafael Betancourt from the Indians, promoted Jhoulys Chacin from Double-A and then landed lefty specialist Joe Beimel from Washington in a trade involving two minor leaguers.

Many believed that the Rockies front office, while busy, did not make a move where they needed it most.

Starting pitching.

The belief among many fans is that while Jorge De La Rosa has been phenomenal in his last seven starts, that the team needed to address some of the back end issues with Jason Hammel's struggles.

Saturday night, however, was a big reminder to those fans that the starting rotation is just fine.

While Hammel has his struggles and De La Rosa is bound to come back to earth at some point, the Rockies rotation is one of the strongest in the National League, and that is saying something.

On Saturday night Ubaldo Jimenez showed that he is turning the corner that so many fans and members of the Rockies front office have been greatly anticipating. While Jimenez has had quality starts in 14 of his last 18 outings, it seems that he still makes a few mistake pitches that the opposition is capitalizing on.

Saturday was different for Jimenez. While he gave up a run in the first due to a leadoff double, and another in the second on a Jonny Gomes massive home run, Jimenez took a deep breath and found a way to capitalize on his talent. With a fastball hovering around 100 MPH all night, Jimenez dominated the Reds starting lineup.

After the third inning Jimenez only allowed three hits, all singles, and no batter reached second base for the Reds. In route to his eighth victory of the season Jimenez pitched eight innings, giving up only the two runs on five hits overall. He struck out eight and walked none. He threw 111 pitches, 75 of which were for strikes. The outing lowered his ERA to 3.76.

There is no doubt that the Rockies ride to the playoffs will include stellar pitching from their 25 year old Dominican. He has talent that comes around only every once in a while. On Saturday he was hitting 100 MPH on the radar gun, and still had movement on the pitches. Usually the faster a fastball is, the more straight it is as well.

Heat is not the only weapon that Jimenez has in his arsenal. He also possesses a curve ball and slider that buckles right handers knees. His talent speaks to him being the future ace of the staff.

With Jimenez the key is confidence.

Just like many young starters in the league Jimenez starts to panic when he finds himself in trouble. With such a large, gangly figure, it is easy for Jimenez to lose his mechanics and struggle to find the strike zone. When this happens the look on his face is not one that suggests he is going to get the next out, but one of bewilderment, wondering how he would ever throw another pitch in the strike zone.

On Saturday however, Jimenez looked to have figured it out. Instead of worrying about the home run that he gave up in the second inning he came right back and got the next three hitters. He did not worry about what went wrong or have to think about his mechanics. He simply got a new baseball and fired it to the next hitter.

Many fans were wishing that the Rockies would have made a play for Arvada native Roy Halliday. They thought that the team should do whatever it takes to get the ace in a Rockies uniform. However, the asking price on Halliday was Jimenez, Ian Stewart and two prospects, something that Dan O'Dowd immediately rejected.

It is easy to say that the team has some holes, but for the most part, the holes are simply slumps or bumps along the way. The only area that the Rockies needed to bridge the gap on was their bullpen, which was addressed in the very capable Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel.

This team needs pitchers like Jimenez. He needs to pitch with the confidence that he had on Saturday night, not the worried fear that he seemed to be dealing with when runners were on base.

Jimenez is quite possibly the remaining intangable that will make or break the Rockies season.

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