CLEVELAND -- Sunday's contest at Progressive Field featured Yu versus "U". And while the Indians recorded a 4-2 victory, the real winner was you, the viewer.
Ubaldo Jimenez submitted his best start in a month, out-dueling Japanese phenom Yu Darvish, who tallied 11 strikeouts in six innings. In the end, a pair of extra-base hits swung the pendulum in Cleveland's favor, as the Tribe took two of three from Texas in a matchup of American League division leaders.
Jimenez has struggled with his command all season. After recording two outs to start the third inning, he walked a pair of batters, an all-too-familiar sequence. The right-hander entered Sunday's tilt averaging 6.3 walks per nine innings.
So manager Manny Acta wanted to make it clear that his encouragement of pitching around one more hitter, outfielder Josh Hamilton, was not to be taken lightly. The skipper joined Jimenez and catcher Carlos Santana on the mound to ensure that the battery mates were on the same page.
"You had Hamilton up there, and the right-hander on deck," Acta said. "It was just about convincing him and Carlos to be on the same page, that if a pitch isn't working and the other one you can throw for strikes, use that one and get ahead and then go from there. After that, they took over."
The brief discussion not only rerouted the trajectory of Sunday's affair, but Acta's advice may have been the wise words a scuffling Jimenez needed to hear. From that point, the hurler worked effectively and efficiently, for the most part. That's not to say the 28-year-old was flawless. He did walk Hamilton to load the bases, but he escaped harm and eventually set down 10 Rangers in a row en route to seven shutout innings.
"Ubaldo was terrific today," Acta said. "He proves that you don't have to throw 99 to get people out, but you do have to throw strikes. He threw strikes today. He had very good offspeed stuff. His curveball was the best I've seen so far."
Jimenez has been a bit of an enigma since arriving in Cleveland last season in a Trade Deadline deal with the Rockies. The Indians hoped to benefit from the pitcher who posted a 19-8 record and 2.88 ERA for Colorado in 2010. Instead, Jimenez allowed 50 baserunners in 28 2/3 innings in his first five starts this season, while striking out a career-low 4.4 batters per nine innings. He threw at least 105 pitches in each of his previous four starts, but didn't last past the sixth inning in any of those outings.
On Sunday, he did issue five walks, but Jimenez surrendered just two hits while fanning six in seven scoreless frames.
"He's capable of doing that," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He has the talent, and he has done it before. Today was his day. If we could have put up some runs early it might have been a different story."
Darvish wasn't quite as sharp, but he fooled plenty of Indians batters. He notched at least two strikeouts in every inning but the first, employing his deep arsenal of pitches to neutralize most Cleveland threats. He couldn't prevent the Tribe from scratching across three runs in the third, an inning that provided all the backing that Jimenez needed.
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera produced a two-run double down the first-base line to score Johnny Damon and Jason Kipnis. Darvish settled in to punch out Travis Hafner and Carlos Santana, but Shin-Soo Choo reached on a two-out single and Cabrera scored when shortstop Elvis Andrus air-mailed a throw over the head of first baseman Michael Young.
Kipnis tacked on the Tribe's final run with a leadoff homer in the fourth inning. The solo blast extended his hitting streak to 10 games.
"He's impressive," Acta said of Darvish. "He's a big kid with a very good arm and what impressed me the most was his secondary stuff. Boy, he can spin the ball. I don't know how many pitches he has and I don't care, but that slider and curveball have very tight spin, and guys just take some awful swings against them. We do have a lot of guys in the league who can throw in the mid-90s, but not too many guys who can spin the ball like that."
Jimenez said he placed more pressure on himself, knowing the ability of the opposing pitcher.
"You have to go out there and bring your 'A' game because he's really tough," Jimenez said. "I've seen him on TV, the guy is out there pitching well every time and giving his team a chance to win."
The lanky righty certainly held his own. There have been concerns about his fastball velocity in recent weeks, but Jimenez routinely touched 94 and 95 mph on the radar gun. He skillfully mixed his heater with an array of curveballs and sliders that constantly caught hitters off balance.
Jimenez has worked extra with pitching coach Scott Radinsky over the last two weeks, tweaking the front shoulder movement in his herky-jerky delivery to produce more torque and power.
"It's still a work in progress," Jimenez said. "It's really hard to make adjustments, but hopefully everything comes together. ... Commanding all of my pitches, that was the main thing today. I was able to throw my slider, curve, changeup, everything for a strike."
That command seemed to come to Jimenez once Acta chipped in his two cents in the third inning.
"I wanted to make sure we were getting the right message across and be the judge in the middle," Acta said. "It was basically about pitch selection, and I thought he had better command of his breaking ball than his fastball. I went out there and said, 'Hey, whatever you can throw for strikes, go for it.'"
A consistent Jimenez could go a long way in solidifying Cleveland's rotation. After all, his effort on Sunday gave the Indians a quality start in all three games of the series, the first time an opponent has recorded three in one series against the Rangers this year.
"It's really impressive," Jimenez said. "It says a lot about our rotation. We're not scared to go out there and face any team. If we execute pitches, we're going to be able to get outs."