Jimenez comfortable with being ace for Rockies
AP Sports Writer
TUCSON, Ariz. – Like a kid with boundless energy, the first thing Ubaldo Jimenez wants to do every morning is grab a ball and glove and go play catch.
The days in between starts are wrenching for the Colorado Rockies’ flamethrowing ace.
And the offseasons? They would be downright dreadful if he didn’t play winter ball back home in the Dominican Republic.
“I like to keep going and going,” the soft-spoken Jimenez said. “I don’t like to be lazy.”
No one will ever accuse him of that. Jimenez pitched at least six innings in a franchise-record 25 straight starts last season, helping the Rockies secure the NL wild card.
Once he receives the ball, he doesn’t like to give it back.
Jimenez has already been named the team’s starter for the opener on April 5 in Milwaukee, an honor that still makes him light up when it’s mentioned.
“But I have to keep working hard,” the 26-year-old Jimenez said. “I can’t change anything.”
Jimenez threw a staff-high 218 innings last season, his arm never seeming to wear down. He tossed 3,570 pitches in 2009, second-most in the NL behind St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (3,614).
So, what did he do after that season?
Naturally, he went home and threw some more.
Give him the option to pitch and he won’t shy away, especially at home with his family and friends able to watch.
“They’ll probably never have a chance to come to (Coors Field) and see me pitch,” Jimenez said. “I do it so they can see me.”
Someday, though, Jimenez may have to curtail his trips to the mound in the Dominican. The Rockies awarded him a four-year, $10 million deal in 2009 and don’t want to put too much wear and tear on that robust right arm.
“He has to be careful. Let the body recuperate. … The more he is one of the faces of our pitching staff, the more responsibility comes with that,” pitching coach Bob Apodaca said.
He’s ready for all the responsibilities that come with being a top-line starter, making small adjustments each season since he broke into the majors in late September 2006.
His days of simply rearing back with his gangly windup and throwing are long gone.
Last season, he focused on maximizing each pitch and not relying on his blistering 95 mph fastball to bail him out of trouble.
That pitch had become both his friend and his foe.
“I’m trying to learn the tempo of the game, how to be a pitcher,” said Jimenez, who was 15-12 in 2009 with a 3.47 ERA, the lowest mark by a starter in franchise history. “I want to know when to use pitches and not just be a thrower.”
To help in that area, Jimenez turned to video, studying the way hurlers like Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Roger Clemens set up hitters and then deliver the knockout punch.
“They’re not afraid to go after a hitter,” Jimenez said.
And neither is he. Never has been, not with that fastball.
However, he’s rethinking his approach, maybe mixing in more breaking pitches, along with a changeup and a nasty splitter. That way, his heater becomes less predictable.
“If it was up to me, I’d probably throw more breaking balls,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez is an unassuming ace who’s well respected in the Rockies clubhouse. He’s even taken on a mentoring role with some of the younger pitchers this spring, offering tips to fellow Dominicans like Samuel Deduno and Esmil Rogers.
Not so much about baseball as life. He’s just paying the generosity forward after former Colorado reliever Jose Mesa once brought Jimenez along.
“It’s not easy over here, having to learn the language and the differences,” Jimenez said. “It’s good when you have someone to help you. They get advice from me and I can get advice from them.”
Now that he’s on his way to being a bona fide No. 1 starter, anything different?
“No, it’s pretty much the same,” Jimenez said. “Just have to do my job, working on everything I need to work on.”
That’s Jimenez’s humble side showing, a quality that Apodaca has come to appreciate.
“He doesn’t take his God-given talents for granted,” Apodaca said. “He works at the areas that he knows he needs to improve on to be an elite pitcher. That’s because he doesn’t want to be a good pitcher – he wants to be the best pitcher.”