The Colorado Rockies have started off the season better than anyone ever could have expected
However, there are quite a few concerns that the team needs to address.
The biggest of these concerns is the health, confidence, or both of ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
The All-Star right-hander made his fourth start of the season on Sunday. With the 8-4 loss, the Rockies have now dropped all four games in which he has started.
The early start was easy to forgive, as Jimenez was dealing with an infected cuticle that affected the way he gripped his pitches, and which gave him pain as he released, causing a loss in velocity.
When he returned from the disabled list, he immediately gave up four runs in the first inning to the San Francisco Giants. After that, he looked much better against the Florida Marlins on Easter Sunday, but ran out of gas in the fifth inning, giving up three runs and the game.
The Florida game was encouraging because Jimenez was throwing with his typical upper-90s again. It was easy to suggest that he was just gaining arm strength back after being shutdown for so long.
On Sunday, however, Jimenez struggled again. His velocity was still in the upper-90s, but he was working more in the mid-90s, rather than the typical 97-99 MPH fastball.
The question has to be asked whether he is dealing with something other than his arm strength. Are all of the 120-plus pitch games from a year ago taking their toll? The Rockies are not publicly concerned. They maintain their position that they are simply working on building the arm strength back and getting Jimenez back to where he was in the past. However, after May 1st, Jimenez is still looking for his first win.
One issue for Jimenez might be his confidence. Case in point came on Sunday in the third inning when Jimenez had opposing pitcher Charlie Morton at the plate with two outs. One a 1-2 count, Jimenez delivered a curveball that missed the strike zone. He eventually struck out Morton harmlessly, but the pitch made a statement as to where Jimenez is.
With a pitcher is at the plate with all of one hit on the season, and Jimenez equipped with an upper-90's fastball, there is absolutely no reason to throw a breaking ball. Throw three strikes past the guy and get out of the inning. Instead, Jimenez went with the breaking ball, perhaps suggesting that his confidence isn't where it was a year ago.
One difference might be the offseason preparation for Jimenez. This past winter was the first in which he didn't play winter ball back at home in the Dominican Republic. He was going to pitching in the postseason, but his team didn't end up making it and therefore didn't need his services.
Before the 2009 season he prepared by pitching in the World Baseball Classic, feeling game action in March.
Perhaps Jimenez is still in spring training mode, not because he missed a few starts and dealt with the thumb injury all the way back to March, but because in the past he has been in game shape before the Rockies ever reported to camp.
Whatever the reason, the Rockies need the Ubaldo Jimenez of 2010, not the Ubaldo Jimenez that has shown up so far.
The good news for the Rockies is that their early season success has given them a chance to take a little pressure off of Jimenez. If he has to take a few more starts before he is ready, he won't be feeling the type of rush that he would have felt had the club been in the situation that they have found themselves in over the past few years.
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