What a difference a year makes.
Last April, Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez established himself as one of the premiere pitchers in baseball, finishing the month 5-0 with a 0.79 ERA. He grabbed headlines by pitching the first no-hitter in team history last April 17, a crowning achievement for the right-hander.
So far this April, Jimenez has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He gave up six runs (five earned) in his first start of the season and ended up on the 15-day DL with a cut cuticle on his right thumb.
Jimenez returned to the mound tonight and looked like he was headed for another disastrous start against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field. In the first inning, Ubaldo gave up four runs, including a three-run home run by Pablo Sandoval, walked a batter and hit another. Just when it looked like time to panic, Jimenez settled in. He finished the start with four scoreless innings and ended on a high note.
With two outs in the fifth inning and a runner on second base, Jimenez struck out Sandoval swinging on a 96 mph fastball up and in. It may seem like a minor victory, but Sandoval has owned Ubaldo over his career, entering the at bat 11-for-32 (.344) lifetime against Jimenez.
The Dominican flame thrower ended the night with another ugly stat line and a 7.36 ERA to his credit through two starts, but had some encouraging signs that he’s going to be OK. The Rockies will clearly be careful with their ace, and Jimenez was seen in the dugout talking with the training staff in between the fifth and sixth innings. Expect him to be on a somewhat limited pitch count his next couple starts (he threw 92 pitches tonight).
At this point, I would avoid overacting to Ubaldo’s slow start. He started the year off with a sort of freak medical issue and that has taken him out of rhythm. I expect Jimenez to turn things around, though it might be too much to expect him to lower his ERA, WHIP and opponent’s batting average while increasing his strikeouts for a fourth-straight season.
A year can make a big difference, but minor victories could snowball into another streak of dominance for Ubaldo Jimenez.