I own Ubaldo Jimenez in both of my N.L.-only leagues this year: my N.L.-home league and Tout Wars, so you might say that I'm somewhat invested in his success. In his lone start prior to hitting the D.L. on April 1, I was half-watching his start while getting some stuff done around the house.
As a result, while I was certainly disappointed with the end results, I didn't realize something was wrong until I read some of the game reports the next day. Miguel Montero in particular noticed that something was off with U-Ball and that by the end of the game he was only sitting in the upper 80s.
Sure enough, the Fx data backed this up. If you dive into the graphs on the attached page, the drop was really dramatic starting around pitch 80. Justin Upton smacked a home run off of U-Ball in the 5th and the aforementioned Montero hit a bomb off of him in the 6th (unfortunately, I wasn't half paying attention when that happened). In layman's terms, U-Ball looked like crap out there.
As everyone knows by now, Jimenez had a cut cuticle on his thumb and was trying - and failing - to adjust. The Rockies were extra cautious, put him on the DL, and after he looked good in a bullpen session last Wednesday, the Rox said they'd start him on Tuesday, April 19.
This time I watched intently.
Thus far, all of the capsule reviews I've read this morning have been fairly negative. However, a close review of his start reveals more of a mixed bag.
The first inning was an unmitigated disaster. And the problem didn't seem to be velocity but lack of movement. U-Ball was throwing relatively hard, but the ball simply didn't seem to have any jump on it. The Giants simply waited and teed off.
The next few innings were OK. U-Ball's velocity was still down, though. I noticed the same thing the Rockies announcers did: Jimenez wasn't getting the ball down in the zone. He was either throwing the ball down the middle or high. For the most part, he was hitting 89 MPH on his lower pitches or 91 MPH on his faster ones. When U-Ball was trying to get more oomph on his pitches, he was flying open early and the ball was sailing high and out of the zone. Still, the Giants weren't teeing off on him the way they were in the 1st.
I did notice Jimenez rubbing his pitching hand against his leg on at least two separate occasions. I wondered if the cuticle was still bothering him. The announcers didn't mention it.
In the 5th, it seemed that U-Ball was once again going to have some problems. Freddy Sanchez singled and then Aubrey Huff walked. The velocity was still in the high 80s and it looked like the Giants were going to start teeing off again with Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Pat Burrell due up.
Then Bob Apodaca came out to talk to Jimenez. I obviously have no idea what he said, but I'm dying to know. Because, suddenly, Jimenez started throwing hard again, with plenty of movement and life. He hit 93, 94 and 95 on his next four pitches. He struck Posey out and then overmatched Sandoval, blasting a 96 MPH fastball by Panda on his 92nd and final pitch of the night.
My conclusions about Jimenez's start?
I think his problem was mechanical and not physical. I keep hearing the term "shaking off the rust" and there's probably something to that. Throwing in an extended spring training game isn't nearly the same as throwing to Major League hitters.
Whether or not Jimenez gets those extra 3-5 MPH back on his fastball is an open question, though. Judging by what he was doing at the end of his start he's certainly capable of throwing harder then he has been throwing. But it also looks like the Rockies' work isn't quite done with him yet. My educated guess is that U-Ball will be fine at some point this year, but it might take a few more starts for the Rockies to work out all of the kinks. Some of his issues last year after his white-hot start had to do with mechanics, and see some of that here now as well.