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Facing Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez is not kid's play

Rockies overpowering right-hander might have a stuffed animal in the clubhouse, but he hardly displays that soft side on the mound.

July 08, 2010|By Laura Myers

Standing in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium, a purple rally monkey draped around his neck, Ubaldo Jimenez doesn't look particularly threatening.

When Jimenez stands on the pitcher's mound staring down a batter, it's a whole different story.

"I'm sure it's not a comfortable at-bat for anybody who steps in the box against him," Colorado Rockies teammate Todd Helton said.

Jimenez, the 26-year-old Rockies ace, said he planned to give the toy to his 6-year-old niece — but he might want to borrow it when he returns to Anaheim for the All-Star game Tuesday.

Though his last few outings have shown a decidedly human side to the hard-throwing pitcher who began June with a 0.78 earned-run average, Jimenez, who has a 14-1 record and 2.27 ERA, remains one of the most untouchable pitchers in baseball through the first half of the season.

"I'm running out of ways to describe what a special year he's had up to this point," Rockies Manager Jim Tracy said. "Right now he's as good as there is in either league, that's the type of season he's had. We're encompassing a lot of really good pitchers in the league. Right now this guy is on top of the list."

The National League's All-Star pitching roster is filled with talent, including the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay, who pitched a perfect game May 29, and the Florida Marlins' Josh Johnson, who went into a game against the Dodgers on Wednesday night leading the majors with a 1.82 ERA. Although Jimenez is in contention for the starting spot, it is not a sure thing.

"I'm not trying to think about it," Jimenez said of his possible All-Star start. "Whenever they let me know, I'll be happy."

Jimenez began his fifth year in the majors with six consecutive wins before losing to the Dodgers, 2-0, on May 6. He gave up only one run and two hits in the loss, and went on to win his next seven decisions, accumulating a 33-inning scoreless streak along the way. He has pitched two shutouts and three complete games.

Although it seems impossible to expect such a strong start, Jimenez said that's not the case.

"That's what everybody's thinking of, but you want to be better and better every year. …You're always thinking of having a good year," he said.

In his last three starts, against the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, Jimenez has given up 17 runs — more than half of his total of 30. With one start remaining, scheduled for Friday, he will not be able to reduce his ERA under 2.00 before the break.

However, he has a chance to be the first pitcher to go into the All-Star break with 15 wins since Boston's Pedro Martinez in 1999. Randy Johnson, then with the Arizona Diamondbacks, had a 14-2 record in the first half before starting the 2000 All-Star game, and in 2002 Curt Schilling, then with the Diamondbacks, started the All-Star game with a 14-3 record.

No pitcher for the Rockies, who play at hitter-friendly Coors Field, has won more than 17 games in a season. Kevin Ritz won that many in 1996, and Pedro Astacio and Jeff Francis matched it in 1999 and 2007, respectively.

Jimenez, who is 5-0 in seven starts at home, has Friday's start and the second half of the season to try to establish a club record for victories.

"I'll just keep doing the same things," he said.

Rockies' reliever Rafael Betancourt has seen a season like this play out before. He was a reliever with the Cleveland Indians when Cliff Lee had a 0.67 ERA through seven starts in 2008 and finished with a 22-3 record and a Cy Young Award. He said the bullpen appreciates Jimenez's hard work.

"You sit there, watch the game, and he's always going to be able to get deep in the game. … With all of our pitchers we feel a lot of confidence, but what Ubaldo's doing now is very special," Betancourt said.

Despite the long list of accomplishments, 2010 won't be Jimenez's defining year if he gets his way.

"He's not satisfied," Tracy said. "And he certainly wants to go beyond where he's at right now. That's his goal. His goal is to be one of the best that's ever done it. It's not just to have a good season. He wants to be one of the best pitchers that's ever done it in the business."

Of course, as he continued to play with his new stuffed animal, the young pitcher didn't put it in such big terms.

"You try to be the best you can every year," he said.

laura.myers@latimes.com

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