MLB: Cleveland Indians at Oakland Athletics

There was a time when Ubaldo Jimenez was the best thing. He was the [Insert Awesome Pitcher's Name Here] of 2010, spawning GIFs in the nascent days of turning our entire world into one long animated yet soundless image. He threw harder than most guys with more movement than most guys – a deadly combination and treat for the eyes.

Unfortunately, Ubaldo could not match his performance over the first half of 2010. He was eventually traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Cleveland Indians in 2011 as Cleveland made their first of two ill-fated first half charges. It looked like a good deal at the time for both sides, as Colorado received some well-regarded prospects and the Tribe picked up a potential ace on an attractive contract.

Not only did Jimenez fail to replicate the form of his 2009-2010 run of domination, when he posted more than 13 rWAR over 439 innings, he started looking like he might be a non-tender candidate. He was a below replacement-level starter for Cleveland across his first 40 or so starts in the American League.

As Cleveland geared up over the winter for a potential dash toward the playoffs, their rotation was the biggest question mark. What could they reasonably expect from the unpredicatable likes of Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and the rest of a middling group of starters? More to the point: which Ubaldo would show up?

Over the last month of so, Cleveland has happily watched as the Ubaldo of old returned, leading the Tribe to within a half game of the AL Wild Card. Not a moment too soon, either.

Ubaldo Jimenez’s season seemed to really turn around in the middle of August. Manager Terry Francona opted to skip Ubaldo’s turn in the rotation in early August as he worked young fireballer Danny Salazar into the mix. Ubaldo pitched on August 2nd, then didn’t make his next start until August 10th and didn’t throw again until August 17th. Almost three full weeks, just three starts. But it is around this time that the big Dominican hurler really heated up.

Using that August 17th outing as the beginning of our arbitrary endpoint, Jimenez has thrown 47 innings with an ERA of 1.53. He has 59 strikeouts over this span against just 11 walks, giving up a single home run. Long tagged with the “five and dive” label, Jiminez has pitched six strong innings in every out save the first.

A player who walks more than 10% of hitters over his career, Jimenez is walking just 6% during this current run. He has five starts in his career with more than eight strikeouts and zero walks – three in the last month, including the below domination of the Kansas City Royals – a main rival in pursuit of the AL Wildcard.

How is he doing it? The old fashioned way: throwing strikes. As his manager described last week, Jimenez attacks more with his fastball, getting ahead and setting up his secondary pitches that much better.

Not only throwing his fastball more, he appears much more willing to go after right-handed hitters inside, pounding the inside part of the zone with his heat. As Francona describes, Jimenez doesn’t blow up the radar gun as he once did, go regaining the confidence in his “diminished” fastball has been a slow process – one finally paying dividends.

The result is a totally different pitcher – a man who looks more like the dominant hurler Cleveland paid a big price to acquire. A big, aggressive hurler unafraid to both sides of the plate against both lefties and righties.

With an $8MM mutual option for next year, both Cleveland and Jimenez have some tough decision to make about their futures. For right now, both parties are focussed on one thing: getting their club into the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Hat tip to ESPN Stats & Info for some stats used in this post.