Rockies’ Jimenez remains modest in light of huge success
AP Sports Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER – Ubaldo Jimenez appreciates all the attention he’s receiving for his astounding season.
He really does.
As to whether the attention is warranted, the Colorado Rockies ace just shrugged his shoulders and flashed a shy smile.
He’s as modest as he is masterful.
Equipped with a 100 mph fastball and an assortment of other filthy pitches, Jimenez is in the midst of a season for the ages. At 12-1, the Dominican right-hander is just the sixth pitcher since 1920 with that quick a start, according to STATS LLC.
His ERA is a minuscule 1.16 as he makes a run at Bob Gibson’s memorable season of 1968, when the St. Louis Cardinals great finished 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA, a performance so dominant that it led, in part, to the mound being lowered the following season.
Dutch Leonard of the Boston Red Sox has the all-time low ERA for a starter in a season since 1900, turning in an 0.96 mark in 1914.
Jimenez was hovering around Leonard’s figure until his last outing, when he surrendered three runs in a six-inning, rain-shortened complete game win Friday over Toronto. Pitching through thick rain drops, Jimenez didn’t have his customary control.
“Wasn’t easy to be out there,” Jimenez said.
A small taste of how hitters must feel against him.
Jimenez refuses to get too swept up in his burgeoning success, remaining down-to-earth even with each dazzling display. His response to all these accolades is a fast dismissive wave of the hand, a way to keep the hype from going to his head.
That’s the way his mom and dad raised him.
“I am the same guy and try to credit people when they do things,” said Jimenez, who, despite his achievements, often has his first name (ooh-BALL-doh) mispronounced. “I haven’t changed.”
With winning, though, comes more obligations, more responsibility.
He understands that, accommodating everyone from fans seeking autographs to reporters who want an interview minutes before Jimenez is due on the field for stretching.
“If you’re pitching well, you have to expect this kind of reaction,” said the 26-year-old Jimenez, who tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history on April 17 at Atlanta. “Everyone wants to talk to you.”
Given his dominance, there’s been plenty to talk about. He has turned in two different scoreless streaks that stretched to at least 25 innings. The last pitcher to do that in a season was Detroit’s Jack Morris in 1986, according to STATS LLC.
He’s the early favorite for the NL Cy Young award, and arguably the best pitcher in both leagues.
Just don’t mention that to him. He will simply shake his head at the assertion.
“I don’t think anyone can say they’re the best,” said Jimenez, who’s scheduled to start Thursday in Minnesota. “You can say you’re one of the good pitchers – never the best.”
The difference in Jimenez this season has been his ability to harness his fastball. No longer is he simply rearing back and zipping it past hitters.
He’s getting the blazing pitch to dip, dive and cut, while also mixing in some nasty pitches such as a slider, splitter, curve and changeup.
Any sign that catcher Miguel Olivo flashes seems to be the correct one.
“He has a mature approach to the game,” Olivo said. “He has the right disposition for a pitcher. He won’t let anything bother him. He won’t let a bad situation get to him. He works through them.”
As an ace, Jimenez’s job is to halt skids so they don’t blossom into demoralizing streaks, which he’s done quite well this season. Of his 12 wins, nine have come after Colorado losses.
“He’s as good as I’ve ever been around,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “There’s so much more to this man, just from his demeanor, his accountability, his character on and off the field. … He’s a really, really special guy.”
Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley saw a glimpse of Jimenez’s talent in 2007, when the young fireballer pitched in the World Series against the Red Sox.
“I was like, ‘Great arm. If this guy ever starts throwing strikes, he’s going to be incredible,'” Eckersley said in a telephone interview. “His command is so much better, his confidence is through the roof. He’s now always around the strike zone. That’s the thing with great pitchers like Roy Halladay and him – they have pitches that start in the strike zone and then leave. Please, we’re talking about the best stuff in the game.”
The presence of his parents is playing a big part in his prosperity, too. To help dilute the distractions, he invited them to stay in his two-bedroom loft in downtown Denver.
His mom and dad rotate the responsibility, staying for about two months on a tourist visa before heading back to the Dominican. Having family around this season means everything to him, provides the stability he craves.
The other day, after his return home from a win in Arizona, his mom cooked up his favorite meal – rice, beans and goat.
“It’s good,” he said, smiling.
Often after starts, Jimenez will break down his performance with his dad, just to get another view.
That’s become especially beneficial after a loss.
Not that Jimenez has had many of those this season, a 2-0 defeat at Dodger Stadium on May 9 the only blemish on his record.
“My dad is there to make sure I don’t lose my confidence – to keep going and never give up,” Jimenez said. “This season, I have learned to become a better pitcher. But I’ve stayed the same.”