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Rockies finally find their ace

8/24/2009

Do the Rockies finally have their ace? Dave Krieger thinks they do:

    For 17 years, the Rockies have been searching for the rarest, most valuable commodity in baseball. They once spent $121 million trying to buy one on the open market, a disaster that set them back years.
    Call off the search party. For the first time in their history, the Rocks have a legitimate ace.

    Never before have they been able to match up with a flamethrower like San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. They could hope to get lucky with finesse, and occasionally did, but they could not fight fire with fire.

    Sunday afternoon, before a full house at Coors Field, Ubaldo Jimenez announced to the baseball world that, at 25, he's ready to join that elite class. He started with a 99-mph fastball to Giants leadoff man Eugenio Velez and rolled from there.

    --snip--

    "I think he deserves a little bit more notoriety than he has gotten to this point beyond Denver," Rocks manager Jim Tracy said. "He deserves more nationally, in my opinion."

    Owing mostly to his early-season struggles, Jimenez is unlikely to get that recognition this year, unless he commands the nation's attention in October. Sunday's win was his 12th against nine losses. He's not worried about it.

    "I just leave that to everybody else," he said. "I just try to be out there for my team, give my team a chance. I'm not thinking about if I deserve to be mentioned with (Lincecum) or something. I know he's one of the greatest pitchers. I just try to win the game."

    One simple factor distinguishes the Jimenez with potential to be an ace and the Jimenez who actually is - command of his nuclear fastball. Sunday, he was painting the black in the bullpen before the game. He walked two to Lincecum's five.

Like it or not, when you're 12-9 with the 16th-lowest ERA (3.36) in the league, you're not going to get a great deal of notoriety. Nor do you deserve it. Not a great deal of it, anyway. But Jimenez is a fine pitcher, and not just because of the strikeouts. He's allowed only nine home runs all season. Then again, that's what he did last year; Jimenez has averaged 0.5 home runs allowed per nine innings both this season and last season.
And the strikeouts? He struck out 7.8 per nine innings last season, and has struck out 8.0 per nine innings this season. No, there's just one huge difference in Jimenez's performance this season. He came into this season having walked 4.5 batters per nine innings, and he's cut that figure to 3.4. Figure out how that happened and bottle it, and you'd make a million bucks in a hurry.

As Jimenez is right now, with his 2.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio and exceptional ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, he might not be a Cy Young candidate. But he's the next best thing, and might well become the best starter in Rockies history. He's already the best they've come up with on their own.