Back in late June, I wrote about how Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez had finally been showing some promise as a member of the Tribe’s starting rotation. Since the date of the article’s publication (June 21st), Jimenez has only gotten stronger – much stronger, in fact.
Jimenez entered the month of June with a dismal 5.57 ERA, but exited with a more respectable 4.63. Over the course of the previous two-and-a-half months since, Jimenez’s ERA has dropped an entire run down to its current mark of 3.62. Although his record currently sits at a modest 11-9, much of those losses could be attributed to a relatively inconsistent Indians lineup, which was especially horrid during games in which Ubaldo took the mound during the month of August. Jimenez posted a solid 3.10 August ERA, but went 1-4 thanks in large part to awful run support (the Tribe offense failed to score more than two runs in any of the games Jimenez started).
Things are starting to work in the righty’s favor now, though, as he has won his previous two starts while not allowing a single earned run. With the injury of Tribe ace Justin Masterson earlier this month, Jimenez’s re-emergence as a legitimate force in the rotation has come just at the right time, as the Indians continue to pursue the final Wild Card spot in the American League.
As great as Jimenez has been during the latter part of this season, it is important to keep in mind that this is not the same Ubaldo Jimenez who finished third in the 2010 NL CY Young Award voting as a member of the Colorado Rockies. That Ubaldo Jimenez threw a fastball that consistently sat in the mid-to-upper 90′s. That velocity has since dipped dramatically and now sits at an average of 92.1 mph for the 2013 season.
Jimenez continued to force the issue with his declining fastball over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, throwing the heater 61.7 and 57.5 percent of the time, respectively. That number now sits at 53.6 percent, serving as a likely indicator as to why Jimenez is a better pitcher in 2013 than he has been the previous two seasons. He has also been using both his above-average slider and effective split-finger with much higher frequencies this season, throwing his slider on 24.3 percent of his pitches (compare that to his career average of 16.0) and his split-finger on 10.2 percent (career average of 2.3).
Inconsistencies in Jimenez’s throwing mechanics have always been an issue and have been the popular answer as to what was truly causing Ubaldo’s struggles in previous seasons. Slight tweaks were made by pitching coach Mickey Callaway to Jimenez’s throwing motion before the season began, and the alterations have produced positive results thus far.
Heading into tonight’s game, which will feature Jimenez as the Tribe’s starting hurler, against the Chicago White Sox – whom the Indians have handled particularly well in 2013 to the tune of a 13-2 record against the Sox – the club sits just 1.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the jam-packed Wild Card race. With a favorable schedule ahead, many experts are calling for the Tribe to finish the season as one of the American League’s Wild Card teams and enter the postseason for the first time since 2007.
If such a scenario were in the cards, the Indians would owe much credit to their 6-foot-5, 210-pound starter for helping them get to that point. Jimenez’s performance this season, especially of late, has generated interest in a genuinely intriguing question that has been circulating around the Indians’ fanbase. If the Tribe were to make the playoffs as one of two AL Wild Card teams, which starter would the team be better off sending to the mound for the team’s one-game matchup against the opposing Wild Card team?
Justin Masterson (14-10, 3.52 ERA) has been great all season long and has more than proven his worth as the Indians’ #1 starter. It’s tough telling just how quickly the big righty will be fully recovered from his recent oblique injury, though, and he hasn’t been as consistent as he was during the early portion of the season since the month of August began. As Masterson seems to be trending downward and Ubaldo continues to trend upward, who should get the nod between the two if the Indians were to make the postseason?
My money would still be on Masterson, considering he and Terry Francona have a long history together, paired along with the fact that his overall performance this season has left little question as to just how important he is to the team as a whole. The consistently strong performance of Ubaldo Jimenez over the past few months, however, would definitely make Terry Francona’s final call much more difficult.