On Wednesday night, the contending Colorado Rockies, behind emerging star Ubaldo Jimenez, re-emerged at Coors Field.
Jimenez was nothing short of phenomenal. He dominated the Pirates hitters for eight innings, giving up only three hits, while striking out six hitters. He did walk four hitters, struggling at points to find his command, but besides the walks, Jimenez was absolutely incredible.
Out of 119 pitches that Jimenez threw, nearly 100 of them were fastballs.
That number is significant because many of the times that Jimenez has struggled he has tried to be too cute. He tries to keep hitters off balance with his breaking pitches and his mechanics break down. While some pitchers must nibble and find a way to get hitters out, most pitchers do not possess the ability to throw a 98 MPH fastball with movement.
Even if a hitter knows that a fastball is coming, it is difficult to hit a pitch traveling with that kind of velocity. For Jimenez to become the dominant type of pitcher that he has the talent to become, he needs to pitch like he did on Wednesday night, challenging hitters and forcing the opposition to prove that they can hit the heat.
The win moves Jimenez’s record to 10-9 on the season. He becomes the fourth Rockies pitcher to have won 10 games, after Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa.
Having four starters in double digits for wins before the middle of August is evidence of a team that is being carried by its pitching. While the Rockies offense can put up runs with the best of them, the fact is, they are in most games because the starter has kept them in it.
One of Jimenez’s struggles this season and throughout his career is the inability to get out of innings. He may get two quick outs but then give up a blooping hit, walk a batter and then give up a big hit. That has been the story for most of the games that Jimenez has lost. On Wednesday, Jimenez looked like he was on the path to giving up the big inning. With the Rockies up 3-0 in the fifth inning, Jimenez got two quick outs, then gave up a blooper to Brandon Moss, then walked eight hole hitter Ronnie Cedeno.
No big deal right? Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Hart was coming to the plate with two outs.
Wrong. Jimenez walked Hart on five pitches, loading the bases for rookie phenom and the Pirates hottest hitter in Andrew McCutchen.
The thoughts of a big inning for the Pirates and a momentum shift were on the top of every Rockies fans mind. Jimenez, however, did not fold. He threw a fastball low in the zone and McCutchen hit a slow roller to Troy Tulowitzki, who threw him out at first by a step, ending the threat.
Moments like that are what will help Jimenez turn the corner and go from a pitcher with potential, to a true dominant ace.
The Rockies also got encouraging news on the offensive side of the ball. Clint Barmes who has seen his average drop nearly .50 points since the middle of July, came through with three hits on the night. Barmes is a very aggressive baseball player. His aggressiveness is why he is in the big leagues. Unfortunately the good comes with the bad. His aggressiveness causes him to try too hard and get ahead of himself at the plate, trying to pull everything. When he is trying to pull the ball, it is nearly impossible for him to hit the breaking ball away from the plate.
On Wednesday Barmes let the ball get deep and tried to hit the ball to the opposite field. When Barmes has that approach at the plate, which he did for the majority of June, good things happen.
Carlos Gonzalez is also showing why the Rockies were so high on him when he was part of the Matt Holliday trade. His talent was evident, but he had not shown the ability to hit the breaking ball. Since the All-Star break, Gonzalez is second in the National League in hitting, with a .421 batting average.
The win was a good sign that the Rockies are not going to let one game carry into the next. They knew that after playing flat on Tuesday that they would need to quickly dispose of the Pirates and gain a game on the Dodgers, who had lost to the Giants earlier in the game.
If there is a negative for the Rockies, it was Todd Helton’s 16-game hitting streak came to an end as he went 0-for-3 with a walk.