No-hitter first step to vaulting Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez into elite
Before taking the mound last Saturday night in Atlanta for the game that would change his professional life, Colorado pitcher
Jimenez had modest expectations that evening: Just get through six, maybe seven, innings, he told himself.
That should have been an attainable goal for a pitcher who has gone at least six innings in 25 consecutive starts, yet for a while it seemed Jimenez might not get that far. He walked six Braves batters and had just three strikeouts through the first five innings, and though he hadn't surrendered a base hit, his lack of control was dangerous in a close game. Jimenez finally seemed to wake up in the sixth. He retired the side in order for the first time, then repeated the feat in the seventh and the eighth innings. In the ninth, he did so again, completing the first no-hitter in Colorado Rockies history with as much power as he had shown all evening by getting All-Star
No one, least of all Jimenez, could have guessed that a night that began with so much uncertainty would end with him being elevated to the forefront of the national baseball discussion for the first time. Those who were just now being made aware of Jimenez's vast skill didn't so much marvel at the feat as wonder: Who is Ubaldo Jimenez?
To the average fan, he is mostly an unknown. To the baseball cognoscenti, he's a fashionable Cy Young darkhorse. But among those who should know best -- opposing hitters -- he's long been a nightmare to face. Jimenez's silencing of a respectable Atlanta offense is a sure sign that he may be close to joining the NL's elite pitchers. With the Rockies playing the vast majority of their games out west, much of the country has slept while Jimenez, 26, has displayed steady growth in his young career. He has increased his wins total and strikeouts while reducing his ERA each of the past two seasons. His no-hitter means that his start Thursday in Washington, D.C. against the Nationals may be the first time that he has had the baseball spotlight almost entirely to himself despite the fact that he's made four postseason starts.
"This will not be his last no-hitter," predicts Mets right fielder
Jimenez's whip-like arm powers a fastball that last year had the highest average velocity fastball in the majors, according to Baseball Info Solutions, and the fastest since the company began tracking the information eight years ago. Thus, it's tempting to think Jimenez's story is one of power and dominance on the mound rather than his grit and work off of it.
At 8:45 a.m. last Sunday, Jimenez entered the team's hotel lobby in Atlanta with running shoes on his feet and sweat dripping from his brow, having completed his usual five-to-six mile run following each of his starts. Rockies pitching coach
"He doesn't want to be merely a pitcher who pitches in the big leagues for a long time," says Apodaca. "He wants to be a great pitcher. He knows now what it takes to be a great pitcher and it's not just between the lines. You have to be a great pitcher between starts. All the hard work that it takes to put your body in a position to be great."
Says Jimenez, "Nothing is for free. You have to keep working."
That lesson has been drilled into him since childhood, not so much by words but by deeds and love. Jimenez came from a family of little money but full hearts. His father,
When big league scouts came knocking a few years later with offers of tens of thousands of dollars the family could've badly used, his parents would shoo them away. The scouts wanted to take a teenaged Ubaldo to their teams' baseball academies where they would complete his transition from an outfielder to a professional pitcher. But Jimenez's parents had seen scores of neighborhood children who left school to chase their major league dreams only to wander the streets without a diploma -- or a prayer -- after they'd flamed out and insisted their son get his high school diploma first.
It was a request that
Fernandez arranged Jimenez's workouts around his studies. "We knew he was a very good find," Fernandez says, "but it wasn't until after the first year I knew he was going to be a special kid." While at the Rockies' academy, whatever Fernandez and his staff asked the developing pitcher to do he did. And then some. "He always did extra," says Fernandez.
He still does. At the Hera Gym in Jimenez's hometown of San Cristobal, gym owner
It is his combination of work ethic and intelligence, those close to Jimenez say, that will propel him to a permanent place in baseball's upper echelon. "He's like
By then everyone will know his name.