Ubaldo embraces challenge of reaching playoffs
Righty not worried about dip in velocity as regular season nears
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The arrival of the regular season will be welcomed with open arms by Ubaldo Jimenez. Enough of Spring Training and enough with the past. The right-hander knows the only time he can really answer any questions is on a mound with a baseball in his hand.
Since being acquired by the Indians in a blockbuster trade last July, Jimenez has existed under a microscope. After every fastball, there is a scramble to check the velocity reading. After every ball, there is worry that he has lost his command.
That will not change throughout the upcoming season -- one in which the Tribe hopes Jimenez can help lead them to the playoffs -- but the pitcher is adamant that he is healthy, feeling strong and the results will back him up. He knows his performance this year is the only way to ease any doubts about his ability.
"I can't wait for the season to start," Jimenez said. "With time and with the numbers, it will speak for itself. I'm not going to put that in my mind that I need to go out there to prove everybody wrong. I'm just going to be out there for my team. I'm going to do everything possible to be there for them and win."
In order for Cleveland to win this season, it needs Jimenez to regain his footing as an elite pitcher -- and do it soon. When the Indians' decision-makers pulled the trigger on the July 31 Trade Deadline deal to reel in Jimenez from the Rockies, the ballclub sacrificed a part of its future by including prized pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White in the package.
W: Perez (1-0) L: Asencio (0-1)
Pomeranz and White -- both former first-round Draft selections -- were viewed as cornerstones in the making, forming the kind of one-two punch that could lead Cleveland's rotation for years to come. By trading them, along with Minor Leaguers Joe Gardner and Mat McBride, the Indians altered the plan dramatically.
By trading for Jimenez, who won 19 games and was a contender for the National League's Cy Young Award in 2010, Cleveland made it clear that its new plan was to push hard for the postseason now. Jimenez is under club control through 2013, creating a two-year window to get the most out of him.
Jimenez is ready to take on that challenge.
"That's something that every player should feel -- that responsibility on their shoulders," he said. "I think that's how everybody has to think. In order for us to be the best team we can be, everybody has to feel like you have to be there for your team, you have to be good all the time to win.
"I like it like that. I like a challenge. That's a responsibility for every player to think that way."
Much like Jimenez's first stint in a Tribe uniform, his first Spring Training with the Indians was filled with mixed results. The 97-98 mph fastball he once featured continued to be missing in action and the right-hander's pitch efficiency left something to be desired.
Down the stretch last season, the 28-year-old went 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 outings for the Indians, who were doing all they could to keep within striking distance of Detroit in the American League Central race. Earlier in the season, after battling groin and hand injuries, Jimenez went 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA for Colorado.
When Jimenez arrived to the Indians, Cleveland was three games back of first place in the division. The team then went 25-28 after his first start and ended the year 15 games behind a Tigers club that popped champagne and reached the AL Championship Series.
The Indians' fade down the stretch did nothing to help Jimenez's situation.
"If we would've seen better results at the end of the season," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "no one would care or put much thought into his Spring Training results. But that's not the case."
All Acta and the Indians' front office can go by is what Jimenez tells them, and the pitcher has been quick to note that, for the most part, his spring results have typically been flat. During his March 17 outing against the Reds, though, Jimenez's fastball dropped to 88-91 mph, causing some concern.
Acta and Jimenez met the next morning, and the pitcher insisted everything was fine.
"I understand the magnitude of the trade and him being over here as our No. 2 guy," Acta said. "We kind of let him know that that's the reason why [there was some worry], because we haven't had the benefit of the doubt of seeing him the way they saw him in Colorado.
"That's why some people panic about his Spring Training."
In Jimenez's next outings, he was back up to 92-95 mph. Jimenez explains the drop-off in velocity last season -- he was down nearly 3 mph on average -- as a result of his early-season injuries. He believes he can rebound this year.
"This is only Spring Training," Jimenez reminded. "I'm excited to go out there feeling healthy and being able to perform good. I can't wait."
Jimenez has done what he can to separate himself from the criticisms that have been written about him over the past several months, too. He knows he has enough on his plate to be worrying what other people are saying or writing about him.
That has not been the easiest task this spring, though.
Multiple reporters from Denver outlets have trickled into Cleveland's complex, trying to get Jimenez to open up about his reasons for wanting to be traded. There have been criticisms about Jimenez being upset that he did not receive a bigger contract from the Rockies, but the pitcher has also alluded to feeling he was treated poorly while coming up through Colorado's system.
In his final outing of the spring, Jimenez appeared to let the emotions involved in his situation get the best of him. While he insists it was not intentional, Jimenez hit shortstop Troy Tulowitzki -- one of the players awarded a lucrative extension by the Rockies -- on the left elbow with a fastball. The two began shouting at one another and the benches cleared in a regrettable incident at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jimenez was unapologetic while claiming his innocence and, for his part in the altercation, the pitcher received a five-game suspension and an undisclosed fine by Major League Baseball. As of right now, Acta said Jimenez will appeal and remains penciled in for his season debut on Saturday against the Blue Jays.
It's yet another episode that dug up Jimenez's past, but he wants nothing more than to move on.
"That's all in the past," Jimenez said. "I'm not going to listen, and I have never listened to anybody about what they say about me. I just go out there and try to do my best. After the season, then we can talk. I'm not going to be worrying about what people say. I only worry about what I'm going to be able to do.
"This spring, they brought it to me. They were coming to my face and telling me this and telling me that, and they were on my Twitter and things like that. But that's something that when the season starts, I don't have to worry about what everybody says about me."
Along those lines, Jimenez has referred to Cleveland as "heaven" compared to pitching for Colorado.
"The only thing I think about is just pitching," he said. "I have mental peace. I don't have to worry about anything but trying to go out there and pitch and giving my team a chance to win."
All of Cleveland is waiting to see if he is capable of accomplishing that goal.