Indians optimistic Jimenez will return to form
Pitcher working with new coach Callaway on honing delivery, mechanics
PHOENIX -- Ubaldo Jimenez did not spend the winter searching for excuses. The Indians starter did search for answers and Cleveland is hoping these weeks of Spring Training can provide sufficient time for finding a potential solution.
The ugliness of Jimenez's statistical line from last season is inescapable. The Tribe hoped he would help lead its rotation and instead the pitcher became a mechanical mess en route to the worst showing of his career. With an overhauled roster, the Indians are counting on a strong comeback from Jimenez this season.
If Jimenez succeeds in that regard, it would drastically alter the complexion of Cleveland's rotation.
"It changes the whole dynamic of the team," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "For him to pitch well is a big part of our team. I think we're going to see it this year. He's been looking really good and he's confident. He's coming in with the right approach."
Indians fans have heard similar statements in the past.
Callaway is the fourth pitching coach to inherit the Jimenez Project since the team acquired the lanky right-hander from the Rockies mid-way through the 2011 season. Since Jimenez joined the Tribe, the one constant has been discussion about delivery mechanics. That has not changed this spring.
The Indians are hoping, however, that Callaway and Jimenez will be able to form a working relationship that nets the intended results. The process started over the offseason, when Callaway made a pair of trips to the Dominican Republic to get to know Jimenez and to begin tackling the task of ironing out kinks in the pitcher's motion.
Last year, Jimenez never found a comfort zone on the mound.
In 31 outings, Jimenez went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA, marking the most losses and the highest earned run average of his career. He logged 176 2/3 innings and struck out 143 hitters, which were his lowest marks in those categories since his rookie season in 2007. Jimenez added 95 walks, with a career-worst rate of 4.8 walks per nine innings.
"It was like I had the ball in my hand," Jimenez said, "and I didn't know what to do with it."
After working with former Indians pitching coaches Tim Belcher, Scott Radinsky and Ruben Niebla over the past two years, Jimenez is now being asked to listen to advice from Callaway. Before dissecting Jimenez's delivery, Callaway's first goal was simply to gain the pitcher's trust.
So far, Indians manager Terry Francona has been impressed with the progress made on that front.
"What I'm really happy about is I think he and Mickey are building a rapport," Francona said. "That's really important. I'm really proud of Mickey, and I'm really proud of Ubaldo. You can tell that there's a trust that's building there."
Callaway has tried not to throw too much at Jimenez at once.
The basic approach right now is trying to have Jimenez work more fluidly and swiftly throughout his motion from the wind-up. In studying video from the pitcher's days with the Rockies and comparing to footage of his most recent season, Cleveland found that Jimenez was nearly a full second faster with his delivery a few years ago.
Last season, Jimenez's slowed motion caused him to pause slightly when he reached his right hand behind his back. On occasion, he would hook the ball behind his back before then driving toward the plate. Such hesitation diminished momentum and, in turn, contributed to the pitcher's drop in velocity over the past three seasons.
"If you start to slow everything down, you can kind of get stuck in some spots," Callaway explained. "We're talking about rhythm and tempo to keep his body moving and allowing him to be the good athlete that he is.
"If the arm becomes stagnant and stops back there, then he's got to get everything going again and it throws off the release point."
On Monday, Jimenez was able to test his progress in his first game action of the spring. In two innings against the A's at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the right-hander allowed no runs and scattered two hits. He issued one walk and mixed in a pair of strikeouts -- one swinging and one looking.
Jimenez's goal is to have his delivery smoothed out before Opening Day.
When the regular season began last year, Jimenez was not ready.
"That was the No. 1 problem," Jimenez said. "I spent the first two months of the season working on my mechanics. I didn't know what I was doing with it."
In a perfect world, the Indians would see Jimenez return to the form he displayed with Colorado from 2009-10, when the right-hander went 34-20 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP over 439 2/3 innings (66 games). Since that two-year stretch, which included his 19-win showing in 2010, Jimenez has gone 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP over 365 innings (63 games).
In a season and a half with Cleveland, Jimenez has gone 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA in 42 outings.
Jimenez said last season was extremely difficult for him.
"It was tough," he said. "Just to come to the stadium every day and working on different things every single day, and I didn't figure it out. It was really hard."
Jimenez wants badly to prove he can overcome last season's woes.
"As a pitcher," Jimenez said, "you have to do everything possible to give your team a chance to win every five days. That's something that I didn't do last year. I have to find a way to do it this year."