Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ubaldo Jimenez picks up first win in impressive complete-game shutout

That's more like it.

After looking extremely pedestrian for the first two months of the season, Ubaldo Jimenez, the Colorado Rockies ace, finally showed signs of regaining the form that made him the National League's All-Star game, and the club's first 19-game winner a year ago.

Jimenez broke out of his funk in impressive fashion, pitching a complete-game shutout, snagging a sweep away from the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The right-hander went all nine innings, giving up just four hits and striking out seven. The most important stat of the night, however, is the zero walks allowed. As Jimenez has tried to regain his form, the walks piled up and resulted in runs.

The seven strikeouts are a testament to how good Jimenez's stuff was. He mixed in a lolli-pop curveball that kept Dodger hitters guessing all night long. His changeup fell off the table and was nearly unhittable. The game could not have come at a more crucial time for the Rockies, who just wrapped up the month of May with a record of 8-21.

One of the major concerns about Jimenez early in the season has been his lack of velocity. On Wednesday, that is still a concern, albeit a small one after the performance. Jimenez was living in the 93-95 MPH range all night long, touching 96 on the gun a few times. However, that is a far stretch from the 97-99 he was consistently hitting in his career up to this point.

The velocity is still down, but the game is a reminder of how good Jimenez can be when he has his best stuff. If he can throw a complete-game shutout with his velocity still down, he can be downright unhittable if his pitch speed ever returns.

Part of the velocity issue might be that Jimenez feels that he isn't under control. He has struggled with walks since returning from the disabled list and he may have started aiming his pitches more in an effort to get them over the plate. With a zero walk performance under his belt, it will be interesting to see if he will feel more comfortable letting loose in his next couple of starts. If Jimenez can regain his form, hopes and expectations will quickly rise once again in Colorado.

Jimenez did his part, and the offense showed a little more life as well. Despite only scoring three runs, there seemed to be a little more life behind the Rockies bats. Todd Helton, proving his detractors wrong, smacked his eighth home run of the season to right field.

Seth Smith also returned to his hitting ways. Still hobbled by a strained groin, Smith went 2-for-5 with a double from the leadoff spot. Smith had the numbers to show for it, while Troy Tulowitzki scored three balls, but only had one hit to show for the effort.

Despite a horrible month of May, the Rockies are just 4-1/2 games behind the NL West leading Diamondbacks. A solid month can keep them within striking distance with plenty of games left to play. That, however, is getting ahead of where the Rockies focus needs to be. They should be thinking about finding a way to gain some ground on their next-closest opponent, the San Francisco Giants, who swept the Rockies last time the club was in San Francisco.


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