Stakes high in Ubaldo's home debut
CLEVELAND -- The trail of the trade was still winding through the Indians' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. To our right, Ubaldo Jimenez was putting on the home whites for a quick photo shoot, but mistakenly grabbed the jersey of teammate Rafael Perez in lieu of his own. To our left, Alex White's locker still sat untouched, his Tribe gear and name placard remaining 10 days after he departed.Realizing his error, Jimenez quickly swapped shirts, throwing on the No. 30 the Indians hope he'll wear for many years. Realizing their error, the home clubbies quickly took down White's name and put his stuff in storage. And with that, the Trade Deadline deal that shocked the baseball world felt a little more official. It will be quite a while before we know what that deal truly entails for the future of this franchise. A trade of this magnitude can only be evaluated long after the camera first catches Jimenez flashing his infectious smile with Chief Wahoo atop his head, long after White's rehab work is complete, long after Drew Pomeranz is finally named the player to be named. All we know is that Jimenez is going to make his home debut at Progressive Field on Wednesday night, and the stakes could scarcely be higher. Forget, for just a moment, what this once cautious and suddenly courageous front office gave up to get him. Forget about what the thin Colorado air might do to Pomeranz's curveball or even what the Rangers' bats did to an obviously amped-up Ubaldo in his first foray into the American League. What matters in the here and now is that the Tigers are in town, a three-game deficit is staring the Indians in the face, the bullpen is completely taxed after a rain-soaked, 14-inning win in the series opener, and this would be a fine time for Jimenez to live up to the ace label. "I'm really excited about my first start in Cleveland," Jimenez said. "But then especially pitching against Detroit. We're competing against them, and we have to do everything we can to stay close." While the AL is generally foreign territory to him, Jimenez does have some familiarity with his upcoming opponent. He beat the Tigers on June 18 at Coors Field, giving up three runs on eight hits over five innings. Hardly a dominant outing, but enough to earn him one of just six victories he accumulated in his final season with the Rockies. "He has at least five pitches," Tigers catcher Victor Martinez said. "At least. And he uses them all." Not always to their intended effect. Groin and thumb issues affected Jimenez's velocity out the gate, and April and May were horrendous (0-5, 5.86 ERA), especially given the standards Jimenez had set for himself in a dominant first half of 2010 (15-1, 2.20 ERA). June and July -- 6-4, 3.49 ERA -- were, as the Indians and Jimenez are quick to point out, much better, before that ridiculous inning he was forced to pitch against the Padres -- amid the swirling trade rumors -- and the uneven outing in Arlington. The job of ensuring the rockiness recedes and the results return belongs to Tim Belcher. The Tribe pitching coach has been studying Jimenez's unorthodox mechanics ever since the front office first began discussing the deal, and he's come away with one conclusion about the stab-and-slingshot delivery Jimenez invented out of desperation seven years ago. "He's got a lot going on," Belcher said. "But it works." It only works when Jimenez remains consistent with his mechanics, and that's a difficult thing to do with so many moving parts. Jimenez was in Class A ball in 2004, recovering from a stress fracture in his right shoulder, when he came up with the throwing motion in which he cocks his arm behind his back, opens up and follows through as if throwing a hatchet. It's a motion that can create devastating movement on his sinking fastball. "I was trying to find a way to throw where I didn't feel any pain," Jimenez said. "That's how I got those mechanics. Because every time I stabbed my arm like that, I didn't feel any pain." Finding comfort within that delivery took several years, but in 2010, he showed enough consistency with it to emerge as a legit Cy Young Award candidate. "I faced him with Boston last year," Martinez said, "and he was untouchable." He's not as untouchable now, and that could eventually lead to subtle changes, at Belcher's urging. "It'll be an ongoing evaluation of his delivery and arm action, and we'll look at ways to potentially make modifications if it's needed," Belcher said. "But I can tell you one thing ... it ain't happening yet. I'm going to watch the guy pitch. He's been here for five innings, so we're going to get to know each other for more than five innings in five days before I make any suggestions to Ubaldo." Belcher's only suggestion thus far has been to remind Jimenez that he's not here to become some superhero like the ones in that "Avengers" movie they're filming a couple blocks from Progressive Field. The Indians see Jimenez pairing with Justin Masterson as a potent one-two punch at the front of their rotation and, potentially, as a catalyst to get fellow Dominican Republic native Fausto Carmona back on track. "For the last couple years," Belcher said, "Fausto has been looked at like a top-of-the-rotation guy. Now, all of a sudden, this guy comes in, a former 19-game winner just like Fausto was one year, a Cy Young Award candidate just like Fausto was for one year. Maybe Fausto will say, 'Hey, this is my rotation. I'm supposed to be at the top.' I think it could be healthy. "Don't deny that there's competition there. Because I've lived it. I know." Of course, it's the competition in the AL Central that matters most right now. Should the Indians win this division, they have the potential to showcase the type of starting stoutness in October that has not been delivered by this division's winner since, well ... since the 2007 Cleveland Indians. But they have to get there first, and they can't get there if they don't take advantage of opportunities like the one presented to them this week. Enter Jimenez. He's been tossed into the thick of the playoff chase, and what better way to endear himself to the home faithful than with a triumphant outing against the Tigers? Presumably, he'll be wearing the right jersey, and the Indians will be counting on the right results.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.