The past week has seen Rockies and Indians fans equally lamenting and lauding the trade that brought right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland in exchange for four minor league players: pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Joe Gardner and first baseman Matt McBride. Rockies fans were incredulous that their ace was gone so soon after earning the label. Indians fans thought the front office had traded away the farm and the future. It was this season’s biggest trade. And it gave everybody in Cleveland and Denver something to gripe about.
Jimenez has been surrounded by question marks and speculation this season. After he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA in 2010 and was the National League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game, he was easy to be excited about, routinely throwing in the upper 90s. This season, he came to the Tribe with a 6-9 record and a 4.46 ERA, and a fastball that strains to hit 95 mph on the speed gun. What happened to his velocity? Was 2010 a fluke? In anticipation of getting some sort of answer to those questions, Jimenez’s first American League start on Friday night ranked somewhere between the second coming and a new Harry Potter title on the scale of anticipation.
Taking the mound against the Texas Rangers, Jimenez’s first pitch was a 91-mph called strike, and everyone in Cleveland breathed a sigh of relief. Then he threw two balls and gave up a double to Ian Kinsler, and perhaps just as soon everyone in Denver could say, “Whew, guess we made the right choice.” The thing is, maybe fans in both cities are right. The question of whether or not this was a good trade for either team was never going to be answered on this Friday, and it won’t be answered for a couple of years.
Indians fans have waited for decades for the Next Big Thing to bring them to the World Series, or at least all the way back to a full season of .500 ball. Over the years, the team developed scads of great young players, only to trade them away for a handful of potentially magic beans when they were close to free agency or to use them as bait for a “rebuilding” year. So Indians fans can empathize with the Rockies fans who questioned this trade. White and Pomeranz were supposed to be keys in Cleveland’s starting rotation in a couple of years; now they’re Denver’s Next Big Thing. It’s delightful to see Jimenez in an Indians uniform, make no doubt about that. But the idea of a savior in cleats who will change an entire team’s fortunes in one day is a myth.
On the other hand, baseball is built on a series of immediate answers: ball or strike, fair or foul, safe or out, win or loss. That’s an oddly binary basis for a game that’s played without a clock. Trades aren’t wired that way. Despite a desire for immediate results and a world that increasingly provides just that, moving human beings around in new configurations rarely provides instant gratification. Normally, it can’t.
Jimenez’s first inning as an Indian looked like it could go either way. Kinsler stole third, then scored on a wild pitch. As the game went on, however, Jimenez calmed down, giving up four runs on seven hits and striking out seven in five innings. The fourth and fifth innings gave Cleveland hints of the pitcher the Indians hoped they were getting, as the Rangers went down in order on four strikeouts and a couple of ground outs. But then he started the sixth inning by giving up a solo shot to Mike Napoli, then walking Mitch Moreland before being pulled.
What questions were answered? Jimenez didn’t immediately tear up the joint, but the Rangers are a good team. He didn’t quite answer the question of where his velocity went, throwing his fastball primarily in the low to mid-90s. He hit 97 on at least one four-seamer and 95 and 96 on several others. Does that mean the Indians have the Jimenez of 2010? We won’t find that out after his next start, or the one after that.
In the end, the Indians lost in 11 innings when another wild pitch -- this time by Rafael Perez -- allowed Elvis Andrus to move into scoring position. Perez shouldn’t be judged on one wild pitch, but then again, Jimenez’s future value to the Indians shouldn’t be judged on one game.
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