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In search of Ubaldo Jimenez's fastball

Chris Humphreys/US Presswire

Right now, Ubaldo Jimenez is admittedly a mess. At the midway point of last season, the Rockies' ace had used his dominant fastball to become appointment viewing and a search for similar numbers was calling up names like Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. When Jimenez was 15-1 last July, the historic comparison most frequently made was that of Smoky Joe Wood, who recorded 10 shutouts along the way to winning 16 straight games for the 1912 Red Sox.

Wood was only 22 years old when he went on to win three games for Boston in the World Series that year, finishing the season 34-5, with a 1.91 ERA and 35 complete games in 38 starts. When asked if his legendary fastball matched that of Wood's, Walter Johnson is reported to have replied, "Mister, nobody throws harder than Smoky Joe Wood." It wasn't long, however, before Wood began to suffer arm and shoulder pain. Following his brilliant 1912 season, Wood averaged just 16 starts per season the next three years. He appeared as a pitcher only seven more times after sitting out the 1916 season and finished his career as an outfielder with the Indians from 1918 to 1922.

No one is suggesting that Jimenez begin shagging flies with a greater sense of urgency, but the Smoky Joe Wood comparison has continued into this season because like Wood, Jimenez's struggle to rediscover his previous form only serves to remind us how other-worldly he was. In fact, the numbers show us that -- unlike Wood in 1912 -- Jimenez's dominance was primarily for only half a season and that 2011 is simply a continuation of his 2010 finish.

On July 8, 2010, Jimenez recorded the victory as the Rockies beat the Cardinals 4-2. At that point, Jimenez was 15-1, 2.20. That proved to be his high-water mark. He did post three more double-digit strikeout games from that point on, but the 15-1 start that had us wondering if he could pull a Denny McLain and win 30 ended a game shy of 20 victories as he finished 19-8. Jimenez's puzzling 2011 really began after his 14th start of 2010, as illustrated by these numbers from ESPN researcher Justin Havens:

The Rockies and Jimenez insist that their ace is completely healthy and that his problems are mechanical, not medical. Yes, Jimenez did go on the DL in April with a torn thumb cuticle but that is hardly a shoulder or arm problem and both Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd and trainer Keith Dugger told the Denver Post this week that there is no injury and that Jimenez is fully healthy. Both men did admit, however, that Jimenez's pitching form is a mess and like an engine on a race car is simply a finely tuned instrument that's in the process of an overhaul.

In his previous start Sunday, an 8-4 loss to the Pirates, Jimenez looked more like Ebby "Nuke" LaLoosh than Smoky Joe Wood. He allowed four earned runs on six hits in four innings with four walks, tied a Rockies record by throwing three wild pitches and located only 48 of his 88 pitches for strikes. The only thing he didn't do wrong, it seemed, was to hit the Dinger, the Rockies' dinosaur mascot. Through four starts, Jimenez is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA. Through four starts last season he was 4-0, 0.95.

According to ESPN's Stats & Information staff, Jimenez's average fastball velocity is down from 95.9 mph to 92.7. His changeup has suffered as a result, with opponents now recording a 1.238 OPS against the Jimenez changeup. Dating back to last season, Colorado has lost Jimenez's last seven starts. He's back on the mound tonight against the Giants' Matt Cain at San Francisco, where the once unhittable Ubaldo will look to snap out of his mental and mechanical slump.

Follow Steve Berthiaume on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.