Waiting on The Big U

Ubaldo Jimenez wouldn’t advise younger pitchers to study his mechanics for ways to improve their own. The tall and lanky right-hander has an unorthodox motion that includes mometarily bringing his hand behind his back, flashing the ball to the hitter.

Ubaldo started using that technique back in 2004. He found dropping his hand down helped alleviate some discomfort he was having with his shoulder. With the pain gone, and the success piling up, he decided to stick with it.

“When I was a little kid, I was trying to be like Pedro Martinez,” Jimenez said of his delivery. “But I got these mechanics when I got hurt in 2004. I was trying to find a way for my arm not to hurt. That’s how I’ve been throwing since.”

Jimenez said he had pitching coaches trying to change his mechanics when he was still in the Rockies’ farm system.

“They tried in the Minor Leagues, but it didn’t work,” he said. “Once they let me go and said, ‘Just do how you think is good,’ I kept moving up.”

He joked that he would not “teach this” style to younger pitchers.

It has worked for Jimenez, though. He climbed steadily through Colorado’s system and earned his way to Opening Day starter heights three years in a row. In 2010, Ubaldo threw a no-hitter, started for the National League in the All-Star Game, collected 19 victories, struck out 214 and finished third in Cy Young voting.

Ubaldo fans have been waiting a while now for that ace-like pitcher to resurface. He started that magical 2010 season 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in his first 18 turns for the Rockies. Since then, Jimenez has gone 14-20 with a 4.39 ERA over 47 appearances between Cleveland and Colorado.

This spring, Jimenez is working on his mechanics again, but the focus is on keeping his stride length consistent, especially from the stretch. On Sunday, Jimenez said he felt he did better in that regard, and he noted that he felt stronger than he has in years when he worked through his first official outing of the spring.

Here’s the thing, though. Jimenez allowed five runs and logged 37 pitches. Now, it’s only fair to note that the Indians made two errors that opened the floodgates for the Reds’ five-run first, and Jimenez was only charged with one earned run. It’s also worth noting that he threw 25 strikes and, unlike in the regular season, he only used three pitches.

On top of that, four of the five hits he gave up were either infield singles or bloopers into the outfield. Only one hitter — Willie Harris — actually squared up and connected for a line drive knock.

I know, however, that there will be a select group of fans who look at the box score and think this is a case of, “Here we go again. Jimenez wasn’t right when the Indians traded for him last July and he’s clearly not right now.” I’m here to talk you off the ledge and again provide the annual spring disclaimer of, “It’s only one inning.”

Take it from The Big U himself.

“I felt really good out there,” he said. “My arm felt good — strong. I’m ready to go. Everything is feeling 100 percent right now. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that.”

Some notes from Sunday…

  • Outfielder Aaron Cunningham was in the lineup for the first time this spring after sitting out due to a sore right hand for the past few days. Cunningham said his hand is back at 100 percent and he’s excited to get things going this spring with his new team. Manager Manny Acta said Cleveland plans on taking a close look at Cunningham, especially since he’s out of options.
  • In the outfield competition, Shelley Duncan got the nod in left field and Cunningham in right during Sunday’s 8-6 loss to the Reds. Duncan – working under his nickname The Dunk Tank — went 1-for-3 with a beast of a three-run homer to left field. Cunningham went 1-for-3 with a single and an RBI, but he made a throwing error in the first.
  • Third Base Watch: Jack Hannahan got the start at the hot corner one day after Lonnie Chisenhall got the nod for the Tribe. Hannahan went 1-for-2 and looked typically sound in the field. In the first inning, he made a strong backhanded grab on a sharp grounder off the bat of Zack Cozart, but the runner beat the throw and Jimenez’s rough first inning began.
  • The Pitchers Perez: Chris Perez (strained left oblique) said he hopes to be able to resume throwing catch by Tuesday or Wednesday. He thinks he’ll be able to beat his target date of March 15 for returning to game action. We’ll see if the Indians medical team agrees. Rafael Perez (sore left shoulder) resumed throwing Saturday (75 feet) and continued Sunday (90 feet) and should be back on a mound soon.
  • Josh Tomlin also pitched on Sunday, logging two clean innings against the Reds. He gave up two leadoff hits, but controlled the damage. He struck out two and created four outs on grounders — two on a double play. It was a typical performance for Tomlin, who will likely be the No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
  • The fifth starter race continued with right-hander Jeanmar Gomez turning in two inning for the Indians on Sunday. Gomez struck out three and blanked the Reds in every other category. Acta raved about Gomez’s slider, which seems to be developing into a nice little strikeout pitch.
  • I’ve written it before, I still think Kevin Slowey and Gomez are the top two candidates for the fifth job — just my opinion. David Huff threw well on Saturday and Zach McAllister (the longshot of the bunch) will pitch on Monday. Slowey is slated to pitch on Tuesday.
  • Chatted some with Shin-Soo Choo this morning to see if he was planning on making any mechanical tweaks this spring. He said the only thing he’s considered is using a toe-tap timing mechanism, but he’s thinking about just sticking with the stance and swing that has gotten him to this point.
  • Choo said the toe tap was his idea — not a suggestion by anyone else. Asked why he thought about a chance, he said, “A lot of players, a lot of coaches say, ‘Choo, you hit .300. Why are you changing things?’ I say I’m trying to get better. I hit .300, but I want to hit .320.” Choo doesn’t want to be thinking about mechanics in Spring Training at-bats, though. He wants to simply get his timing down for the start of the season.
  • The Indians will play a “B” game against the White Sox at 10 a.m. MT Monday morning at the Tribe’s player development complex. Arms from big league camp listed as available include Chris Seddon, Tyler Sturdevant, Danny Salazar and Chen-Chang Lee. The game is free to the public.
  • Monday’s “A” game against the Reds — the third tilt in a row between the clubs — will feature Indians Opening Day man Justin Masterson making his spring debut. Derek Lowe is also slated to make his Cleveland debut. Also down to pitch are Tony Sipp, Dan Wheeler and McAllister.

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Photo of the Day

Manager Manny Acta and catcher Carlos Santana chat during BP on Sunday morning.

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Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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