Ubaldo Jimenez, I argue, is the most frustrating starting pitcher in Major League Baseball to have on your team. Notice I didn’t say he’s the worst starter or the most ineffective. Jimenez has a lot of pitches with good movement and at one time, he was undoubtedly an ace. That, however, is not the case anymore. Instead, he’s effectively the Indians’ fifth starter, and he’s failing to keep his team in the game and taxing the bullpen. That was exactly the case in last night’s 7-5 defeat as the Red Sox repeatedly put him up against the ropes in tiny Fenway and eventually sent him to the canvas.
There are certain things that you just can’t do if you want to be an effective starter at the major league level. You can’t fall behind in the count, walk more people than you strike out, give up crooked numbers in more than one inning, and run up your pitch count to 100 before the fifth inning. Ubaldo does all of these things, repeatedly. He did them all last night too (except the pitches – 99 in less than five innings). Falling behind in counts and his walks make the hits he does relinquish lethal. Whereas guys like Derek Lowe can gut themselves through a performance where they aren’t sharp, Jimenez is utterly unable to do such a thing. Minimizing damage is not in his vocabulary.
Ubaldo started off with a strikeout of Sweeney where he stayed ahead in the count, and then he was ahead 0-2 on Pedroia. From there, it was a single to Pedroia, an Ortiz walk, a Gonzalez hit by pitch, and a two-run double to Middlebrooks, followed by a Ross walk. In between that, he did manage to strike out the side with Sweeney, Nava, and Saltalamacchia. It was two runs given up and 30 pitches thrown. If that’s the one bad inning and he settles on from there, that’s fine and the Indians stay in the game. But, there were additional big Red Sox innings to come.
The Red Sox started inning two with three straight hits from Punto, Sweeney, and Pedroia (a two-run double). They all hit fastballs and sent them into to the outfield. Jimenez had very little command of that fastball. They were either making solid contact and putting it in play, fouling it off, or it was so far outside of the strike zone, they were laying off of it. When Jimenez is struggling, you could go innings without seeing a swing and miss. As Jon pointed out via ESPN’s David Schoenfield on Twitter the other day, the lack of strikeouts has been a team problem.
The final of the three offending innings for Jimenez was the fifth, which he was unable to finish. A leadoff walk, two more hits, and a fielder’s choice where the Indians got no one (Note: the umpire blew the call, Kipnis was on the bag at first and the throw beat the runner) had chased Ubaldo from the game. Dan Wheeler had let in one of the inherited runners, and the line was closed. Seven runs (all earned). Nine hits. Five walks. Four strikeouts (just one after the first). 99 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. Three crooked number innings for the Red Sox. When you turn it over to your offense in the bottom of the fifth inning down 7-1, you’ve failed as a starting pitcher. The Indians are a late inning team, we’ve seen this repeatedly in the past two seasons. If the starter keeps them in the game, the offense and the bullpen can pull a good chunk of games into the win column.
Clay Buchholz, who has struggled mightily this season, minimized damage like a pro in the first inning, giving up just one run after loading the bases with two down. Actually, he had runners on nearly every single inning, but he didn’t let the Tribe capitalize. The Indians had a threat in the second going, but that was ended by a Kipnis single to left where Daniel Nava threw out Jack Hannahan at the plate with a perfect throw and an outstanding block of the plate by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Hannahan beat the throw, but was unable to touch the plate, and third base coach Steve Smith was tossed for his reaction at the out call. Tribe skipper Manny Acta handled the third base coaching duties for the remainder of the game.
Cleveland did in fact get the bats going in the seventh inning with a RBI walk with the bases loaded walk for Hafner, Santana reaching base on an error, and Brantley adding a two-out RBI single. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep the good inning rolling as Casey Kotchman ended the threat with a groundout to first. The Wahoos got two extra outs in the eighth and still left runners stranded at third and second. In the ninth, they got one run off closer Alfredo Aceves, but they once again left two runners stranded in scoring position to end the game. Fourteen Indian runners were left on base in all. That included seven runners in the final three innings, with six of those in scoring position.
Back to Jimenez for a moment. The most irritating aspect of it all is that when Ubaldo does have control, he is nearly unhittable. We’ve seen the glimpses, including his first start against Toronto and last start against Texas. He can be brilliant at times, but those instances are not enough when they are as frequent as the beatings sustained tonight and in Chicago on the first of May. I’m done thinking Ubaldo Jimenez is a number one starter. Heck, I’m done thinking that he’ll ever consistently be what he was. At this point, I’d settle for him not being a sore thumb on a team that’s got a lot of good going on right about now. To win this division, the Indians are likely going to need Ubaldo to stop pitching like a number five and at least carry himself like an average third or fourth starter. Is that too much to ask from a guy for whom we gave up our two best pitching prospects? I certainly don’t think so.
The Tribe and Red Sox meet for the third time tonight at 7:05 with Josh Tomlin facing lefty Felix Doubront. With three bullpen mafia members having thrown 37+ pitches in the last 48 hours (Pestano Thursday plus Wheeler and Sipp last night), the team really needs a good one from Tomlin.
(Photo: Charles Krupa/AP)