After the Tribe took a 4-3 win to open this series against the visiting Royals on Monday, I thought they might kick on and put a marker down, show they mean business in this race for October baseball. Instead they dropped the next two games, losing the series overall, whilst looking totally anemic in the process. I'm not going to focus on the negatives today though. No sir, I'm going to shine a little light on the one Tribe player who did us proud during this series.
A Summertime Miracle
After a disastrous 2012 season, 99% of Tribe fans and the rest of major league baseball were ready to write off Ubaldo Jimenez's hopes of being an effective pitcher again. Especially after a league-leading 17 losses and a 5.40 ERA that ranked as the 3rd worst in the entire league (he was 3rd worst in walks too, with 95 in 176.2 innings). To put it simply, Jimenez was one of, if not the worst starting pitcher in baseball last year. Coming into the 2013 season, our expectations for him couldn't have been much lower. Hell, some people expected him to be released during Spring Training.
However, 2013 has proven to be a revelation for Ubaldo, a resurrection if you will, albeit with a few bumps in the road along the way (nothing is ever easy where Ubaldo is concerned). He got off to a slow start, highlighted by an awful 1.2 inning shellacking against Boston on April 16th, when he was hammered for 7 runs in that short space of time. People were calling for his head soon afterwards. But as the year has gone on, Ubaldo has gotten better and better. It's been a bit of a slow process, as he often struggled to get past 5 innings even when he was pitching pretty well. To his credit, Ubaldo has been nothing if not resilient. Whilst some pitchers get tired and worn down once September rolls around, Jimenez has been the complete opposite, looking stronger now than he's looked at any other point in the campaign. Gone are his velocity problems that plagued him early in the season (Adam Burke coined the phrase: Ubaldogate). Watching him pitch now is actually fun for once, something rarely said since he joined the club from Colorado in a mid-season trade in 2011.
After Monday's dominant outing against the Royals (7 innings, 7 hits, 1 unearned run, 0 walks and 10 strikeouts), Jimenez's season looks like this: 154.1 innings pitched with a 3.62 ERA that was as high as 11.25 in April and 5.03 in June. His ERA has only gotten lower and lower ever since, sitting at a very respectable level now. At the time of writing he is 32nd in the league in strikeouts with 157, ahead of guys like Toronto's R.A. Dickey, KC's Ervin Santana, the Yankees' Hiroki Kuroda, Tampa Bay's David Price, and Atlanta's Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran. That ain't too shabby for Ubaldo.
Yeah, he still walks too many guys (he did this even in his glory days with the Rockies), with 75 walks so far, good enough for the 3rd highest total in the league (joint 3rd with Justin Masterson actually). But Jimenez has been much better lately and seems to have harnessed the majority of his control problems. Let's play a small sample size game for a minute: In his last 4 starts Ubaldo has only given up 5 walks in 26 innings, twice pitching games where he didn't walk anybody. Did you hear what I said? UBALDO DIDN'T WALK ANYBODY. Some people probably didn't think that was possible. Within this span, Jimenez struck out 34 batters, reaching 10 K's in 3 out of those 4 games, all to the tune of a mesmerising 1.73 ERA with batters hitting just .235 off him. To say Ubaldo has turned a corner in 2013 would be an understatement. He's like a new man out there, especially since the All Star Break: 1.94 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 55.2 innings, only 3 HR's surrendered in nearly 2 months, and a measly .220 batting average against him. If the season started in mid-July, he'd be considered one of the best pitchers in the game this year, one of the elite. Yeah, your very own Ubaldo Jimenez. Go figure.
So what was the point of this gushing piece about Ubaldo and his recent hot streak? Well, if the tall right-hander can keep this up until the end of the month, and God forbid maybe into the post-season, I think he deserves a place on this ballclub in 2014. He has a team option for $8 million next year and despite turning 30 years old in January, I think Jimenez has earned another season in the Cleveland rotation. I never thought I'd say those words just a few short months ago but now I'd be quite sad to see Ubaldo depart if the Indians front office decided against keeping him around for another year. Which is why it is of the utmost importance he remains focused for just a few more weeks and continues to pitch exactly the way he has done recently. I pray he can achieve this and prove I haven't just wasted my time singing his praises. Nonetheless, the big guy has made a fan out of me.
Thanks for reading.