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Indians Indians Archive What Do You Do With a Problem Like Ubaldo?
Written by Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore

2012 04 ubadlo jimenezCleveland, we may have a problem.

Lost in all the hoo-ha about Tribe pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez hitting Colorado piss-ant Troy Tulowitzki with a pitch on Sunday is the fact that Jimenez doesn’t look any better than he did last season, when he went 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA with the Indians after being acquired in a trade with the Rockies for top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Joe Gardner.

But let’s start with Sunday’s action.

Jimenez hit Tulowitzki in the elbow with a first-pitch fastball in the first inning.

“I don’t think anything happened,” Jimenez said according to The Beacon Journal. “I didn’t have good control of my fastball. You could see I walked the first hitter. The ball just got away from me.”

Fair enough. The Rockies complained about the pitch, naturally, especially manager Jim Tracy, who is just 10 games over .500 in his 11-year managerial career with three teams.

“I think that’s the most unprofessional thing I’ve ever seen since I started in professional baseball,” Tracy hyperbolized after the game. “I’m proud of Tulo. To get hit like that, the natural reaction is to charge the mound. It takes a world of presence of mind to realize the season is going to start and just stand there and stare, and the other guy is coming off the mound with intent.”

Tracy has been in the game for 35 years. During that time we’ve seen steroids make records irrelevant; seen agents steer players to whichever team is handing out the biggest paycheck, rather than the best fit, so the agent can make more money; and seen the growth of pond scum who prey on poor Latin American players who are desperate for a shot at the majors, but hitting a player with a pitch is the “most unprofessional thing” he’s ever seen?

We daresay Tracy needs to get out more often.

“I don’t think I should be suspended,” Jimenez on Monday according to The Plain Dealer. “A hit by pitch is something that happens every day in the game. It’s not a surprise when someone gets hit.”

Yeah, well, Major League Baseball officials disagree, announcing Monday evening that Jimenez is suspended for the first five games of the season.

Just great.

The Rockies and their whining aside, the real question is what are the Indians going to do with Jimenez, other than run him out to the mound every fifth day?

During spring training Jimenez went 1-4 with a 7.43 ERA in seven starts, allowing 24 runs (19 earned) on 30 hits in 23 innings of work. He walked 15 and struck out 15 and the opposition hit .316 against him.

Oh boy.

We like that Jimenez has moxie and is not afraid to challenge a hitter. That’s a plus in the American League and the Indians need to make the opposing hitters as uncomfortable as possible.

But if it is true that Jimenez did this because he is mad the Rockies did not give him a long-term contract last season, then he needs to grow up. He’s on the Indians now and needs to let go of any hurt feelings and focus on what it’s going to take to help the Tribe stay with Detroit in the Central Division.

Speaking of the Tigers, in five starts against Detroit last season Jimenez was 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA. That’s not going to get it done this year.

And if he wanted to show the Rockies that they made a mistake in dealing him away, he sure didn’t accomplish that mission as he gave up six earned and five walks in 4.1 innings of work on Sunday.

If he wanted to make an impression, Jimenez should follow Josh Tomlin’s lead, as Tomlin used his final spring training game on Monday to throw five innings of three-hit, one-run ball against Cincinnati. That’s how you tune up for the season.

More and more it’s looking like Jimenez’ 2010 season, when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA, was every bit the mirage created by Roberto Hernandez in 2007.

If that’s the case, the Tribe has a huge problem on its hands. For the team to have a chance to compete with Detroit they need to be able to pitch at least well enough to keep the game in hand before turning it over to the bullpen. Because with the lineup the way it is currently put together, it’s hard to see the Tribe outslugging anyone on a regular basis.

We understand why Indians general manager Chris Antonetti made the trade. The Indians are not in the market to sign talented free agent pitchers – especially when the team payroll is only $65 million – and need to take a gamble every once in a while to try and improve the team. (Too bad we didn’t hit the Mega Millions lottery over the weekend; we were all set to become a silent partner and boost the Tribe payroll.)

But since going 14-1 over his first 16 starts in 2010, Jimenez has only been 15-20 with a 4.42 ERA since then. He’s also reportedly lost 4-5 mph off of his fastball.

“I’m glad spring training is over,” Jimenez said. “Now we go to the fun part of the season. That’s where everything counts. I’m really excited for the season.”

If Jimenez comes out in April and May and pitches like the ace that the team has sold him to be to the fans, then spring training and the incident with the Rockies will all be forgotten.

But if he continues to pitch the way he has for the past season-and-a-half, things could get real ugly real fast.

And with this being Cleveland, which outcome would you be willing to bet on?

(Photo by Getty Images)

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