Rockies open season with new ace Jimenez on mound |

Rockies open season with new ace Jimenez on mound

Troy E. Renck
The Denver Post

MILWAUKEE – Early one spring morning at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ubaldo Jimenez walked over to the clubhouse stereo and changed the tune. He preferred something more Latin, more lively.

As the bass thumped off the walls, he performed a little jig and smiled. Those watching knew this was not about the music. This was a signature moment, a reminder that Jimenez has arrived.

“He would have never done that before,” Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. “He used to be as quiet as a mouse. Now, he’s more assertive in everything he does.”

Jimenez’s evolution from meek to muscle continues today against the Milwaukee Brewers as he makes his first opening-day start. Since 2007, Jimenez has been the Rockies’ most talented pitcher. Now, he’s their best. He’s frequently mentioned as a Cy Young Award candidate, with a popular Internet site giving him shorter odds than Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

“I want that responsibility. I want to help my team win,” Jimenez said. “I am aware of all the talk. It’s fun because everybody has something to say. And it’s usually good.”

Beginning his fourth season, Jimenez, 26, no longer assaults just one sense. When he first arrived, teammates would marvel at how they could hear Jimenez’s fastball hiss through the air. And there were some opponents who practically swore they never saw the ball, just heard the pop of the catcher’s glove. For many pitchers, this would have established a career pattern. Throw hard, and when in trouble, throw harder.

This is what distinguishes Jimenez, makes him so valuable as the Rockies begin their march for a first-ever National League West crown and first-ever back-to- back playoff appearances. He has become a pitcher. He’s not addicted to strikeouts. He’s comfortable pitching to contact, realizing that his 96 mph sinking fastball is about as fun to hit as a manhole cover.

“He’s on a whole different level than the rest of us,” reliever Matt Daley said. “He has five pitches he can throw for strikes, but when he establishes that fastball, he’s very difficult to handle.”

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