SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP)Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez had the best three-season pitching run in Colorado history. A decade later, he is working on a reprise.
Jimenez, who won 46 games with Colorado from 2008 to 2010, is back in the Rockies’ camp on a minor league contract and hopes to compete for a spot in the rotation he once dominated.
”My arm feels good. My body feels good. My mind is 100%,” he said. ”I got all the rest that I needed. I’m ready to come back and compete.”
The 36-year-old Jimenez faces long odds. He has not pitched in the major leagues since completing a four-year, $50 million contract with Baltimore in 2018.
But armed with a fastball that he said sat in the 90-95 mph range during an eight-game stint for Licey in the Dominican Republic winter league, he is looking forward to the challenge.
”I’m enjoying the moment,” Jimenez said. ”Every time they give me the ball, I’m going to try do that same thing that I did before, compete and get people out.”
Jimenez is 114-117 in a 12-year major league career that includes stops in Cleveland and Baltimore. He won 12, 15 and 19 games in his peak years of 2008-10, when he made 100 starts and averaged 195 strikeouts and 213 innings for Colorado. His 18.9 WAR is the highest in franchise history for pitchers, according to baseball-reference.com.
Even the treachery of Coors Field is no deterrent. Jimenez is 30-19 with a 3.67 ERA in 67 games there.
”It is a tough place to pitch,” Jimenez said. ”You don’t get the same feel for the grip on the baseball, but you have to find a way to make it work. That’s a challenge, but sometimes challenges are good because they get the best out of you.”
Consider 2020 another challenge. Jimenez said he was offered a major league contact in 2018 but chose to spend time with his wife during a high-risk pregnancy that resulted in the birth of the second of their two daughters.
Minor league offers came last spring, Jimenez said, but the time was not right.
”My mechanics weren’t good,” he said. ”That’s why I started practicing with the Rockies, to get everything back on track.”
Jimenez began working with Edison Lora, his first pitching coach in the Dominican Republic, and progressed to the point where he was 1-4 with a 3.03 ERA in Licey this winter. He struck out 27 in 29 2/3 innings.
Colorado manager Bud Black has a small part in Jimenez’s history with the Rockies. Jimenez started against Black’s San Diego Padres on July 30, 2011, the same day he was traded to Cleveland. He pitched one inning before the trade was finalized and he was removed.
”Of course I didn’t want to leave, but like I say, it is part of the business,” Jimenez said. ”You have to handle that. Wherever it takes you, you have to do your job.”
The Rockies, who appear to have at least one opening in the starting rotation, are on board.
”The stuff might not be where it was 10 years ago, but he wants to give this a go. There have been other guys at his age take little bit of a blow and have a renaissance,” said Black, mentioning Rich Hill.
Jimenez had other offers this winter, but there was only place he wanted to be.
”They gave me the opportunity to live my dream, and that was becoming a major league pitcher,” Jimenez said. ”I’m excited to be back.”