Wednesday night at Coors Field, Ubaldo Jimenez wrote the latest chapter of a story that looks as if it is going to have a very happy ending.
Heading into the game, Jimenez sported a record of 8-1 with an ERA of 0.99, the best in all of baseball. By the end of a 7-3 victory over the Diamondbacks, the lanky right-hander had notched another win and lowered his ERA to 0.88.
Jimenez pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up six hits. He walked just one hitter and struck out three. He was helped out by several great defensive plays, one in particular in the first inning as centerfielder Carlos Gonzalez made a running catch on a ball into the left-center gap hit by Conor Jackson.
The reason Jimenez was impressive Wednesday was for a different reason than his previous nine starts. From the get-go, it was clear that he did not have his best stuff. Kelly Johnson ripped the third pitch of the game to the right field wall for a double. He would have scored if not for Gonzalez's amazing catch.
The reason the start was so impressive for Jimenez is because without his best stuff, he was still able to carve his way through the Diamondback hitters. His fastball, normally in the 98-99 range was sitting around 96 MPH, still impressive, but it lacked the typical tailing action that makes it that much harder to hit. His offspeed pitches were not quite as crisp and several pitches were left a little too high for comfort.
However, without his best stuff, Jimenez still managed to keep a good-hitting Diamondbacks' team from crossing home plate in eight innings. It was a huge sign of maturity from Jimenez, who, in his first three seasons in the big leagues struggled with giving up one big inning. On Wednesday he showed how far along he has come. Without his best pitches to rely on, Jimenez showed that he can still get outs, and be dominant in doing so.
His success goes back to the fact that he is a power pitcher who pitches like a guy who does not throw that hard. Instead of seeking strikeouts, Jimenez pitches to contact, allowing the fielders behind him to absorb outs. A hard-thrower would have struggled in Jimenez's shoes on Wednesday because a flat fastball with a little less velocity is generally something that causes Major League hitters to salivate over.
Instead, Jimenez is still able to keep the ball low in the strike zone, which keeps him from getting hurt by the long ball.
Through 71-1/3 innings pitched in 2010, Jimenez has given up just seven runs. He has also given up just 42 hits. In his one loss on the season Jimenez gave up just two hits, one of which never left the infield. His dominance has been incredible.
If Jimenez wants to look around to see who is near him in the National League Cy Young race, he is not going to find anyone nearby. Three weeks ago it was a three horse race between Jimenez, Colorado native Roy Halladay and San Francisco's two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. However, as Jimenez has gotten stronger, those two have faded. On Wednesday Lincecum did not get out of the 5th inning against the Nationals, giving up six earned runs. Halladay has dropped to 6-3 and his ERA has climbed to 2.22, normally phenomenal, but compared to Jimenez it looks like Pike's Peak.
No Cy Young has ever been won in May, and no one has ever been declared the starter of the All-Star game in the second month of the season, but Jimenez is putting together a season that is going to be hard to ignore when it comes time to start shelling out praise.
If the flamethrower can stay healthy, the Rockies could put themselves in a very good position by the time summer turns into fall.
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