It's official: The Rockies no longer have an ace. It's not Ubaldo Jimenez right now -- not the way he's pitching. A team doesn't go 0-9 behind its ace, as Colorado has done in the last nine games Jimenez has started. An ace doesn't walk 15 batters in his last 13 2/3 innings, as Jimenez has done. And an ace doesn't go 6-10 with a 4.68 ERA over 25 starts, which Jimenez has done since last June 23.
Jimenez was shaky again Thursday against the Mets at home, failing to get out of the fourth inning. He threw 46 fastballs, only one of which was good enough to get a swing and miss. The Rockies are 9-16 in his past 25 starts. Jimenez, meanwhile, is now 0-3 with a 6.67 ERA one year after posting a 2.28 ERA and leading the National League in winning percentage.
The Rockies insist Jimenez is healthy, choosing to blame his problems on mechanical issues, command and the cuticle problem on his thumb that knocked him off schedule in April. But the elephant in the room is a consistent drop in velocity by Jimenez. His high-octane fastball has gone missing.
Jimenez has been throwing his heater at around 93-94 miles per hour. He topped out at 96 yesterday. Last year he would cruise in the 95-96 range and top out near 100 mph. According to FanGraphs.com, Jimenez had the best average fastball velocity in baseball last year among all pitchers with 80 innings. This year, among those with 20 innings under their belt, his fastball ranks 29th.
"He's pitching like he's hurt," one scout said recently. "He reminds me of what Mark Mulder looked like before he went down."
When you compare video of the 2010 early-season Jimenez to the 2011 Jimenez, the difference is noticeable. Jimenez does not have the extension or the finish he had last year. Last season his hand would continue past and below his left knee after releasing the ball; this year it often stops above and in front of his left knee. While he still has enough velocity to win, he doesn't have the finish on his pitches to dominate.
It's entirely possible, even likely given Colorado's investment in Jimenez, that he is healthy and is due for a bounceback. But don't discount the wear and tear factor of putting up innings in Denver, the toughest place to pitch this side of Mexico City. Only two Rockies pitchers ever have thrown 200 innings in back-to-back seasons: Jimenez (2009-10) and Pedro Astacio (1998-99). No one has done it a third year in a row.
The 2008 draft was The Year of the First Basemen. Seven first basemen were chosen among the first 23 picks of the draft. How unusual is that? Of the 99 first-round picks in the two drafts since then, only one of them was used on a first baseman.
Six first basemen from the Class of '08 have debuted in the majors since Opening Day last year, with the top pick from among the first basemen, Eric Hosmer of Kansas City, making his debut last week. (Allan Dykstra, drafted by San Diego and now with the Mets' organization in Double-A, is the only one of the eight yet to make the majors.)
Not only was Hosmer drafted first among the first basemen, but also he posted the best minor league OPS among the eight of them. Does that mean he will have the best big league career among them? Time will tell, but with Class of '07 first basemen Freddie Freeman, 21, of the Braves and Mark Trumbo, 25, of the Angels also locking down big league jobs at first base, the next generation of first basemen has arrived. Which one from the draft class of '08 would you pick today?
Remember when the number 13 was considered unlucky? Not so today. There are 14 number 13s active today, all of whom are expecting nothing but good luck on this Friday the 13th. In honor of this lucky day for the lucky number 13s, here are the 13 guys who bring honor to that great Fibonacci number and prime number, 13: it's the 13-man All-13 Team.
C: Buck Martinez
1B: Doug Mientkiewicz
2B: John Valentin
SS: Dave Concepcion
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Carl Crawford
CF: Lee Mazzilli
RF: Roberto Clemente
SP: Ralph Branca
RP: Billy Wagner
Utility Inf.: Lou Merloni
Utility OF: Cody Ross
Mgr: Ozzie Guillen
The all-13 team needs a couple of explanations. In baseball's original numbering tradition, the top eight batters wore 1 through 8, the backup catcher wore 9, and the starting pitchers wore 10, 11, 12 and 14 -- that's right, no 13 because it was considered unlucky. That was the case until Ralph Branca was bold enough to take on 13, and so for gumption alone he gets the call over Zack Greinke.
Only one number 13 is retired, and that is the number worn by Concepcion in Cincinnati, and so he gets the call over Omar Vizquel.
Finally, what is famous number 21, Clemente, doing on this All-13 team? Clemente wore 13 in his rookie year, 1955. He switched the following season to 21, representing the number of letters in his full name, Roberto Clemente Walker.