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Strange goodbye for Jimenez, Rockies
The final words of the national anthem rang out at Petco Park. Ubaldo Jimenez was wrapping up his warm-up pitches for the start in the Colorado Rockies' game against the San Diego Padres. And just then, Rockies manager Jim Tracy got the word.
The deal sending Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians was finalized.
With the game starting, and nobody else ready to go, Jimenez went out to pitch the first inning, and then, when he came into the dugout, he bid adieu to the teammates of the only organization he has known in his 10-year professional career.
"It was hard," Jimenez said of his one-inning adios. "I couldn’t focus."
Once the bizarre nature of that first inning and the emotions of the moment were pushed aside, reality set in.
Cleveland has an unexpected shot at a division title this season. After unloading aces in past Julys, the Indians have fortefied a part of their future to enhance their rotation this year while the Rockies are trying to regroup.
"We went into the season with expectations and Ubaldo had expectations," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the emerging face of the franchise. "We understand it is a business. We didn’t play up to expectations and Ubaldo didn’t meet expectations. If that happens, changes are made."
Favored by many to win the NL West, the Rockies embraced those expectations during spring training. After opening the season 11-2, however, they stumbled.
Even with a 10-6 victory against the Padres on Saturday night, the Rockies are struggling at 51-56, third in the NL West, 10 games behind defending champion San Francisco, and seven back of the surprising second-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cleveland, meanwhile, was supposedly in a rebuilding process, and some, including this columnist, projected the Indians to be among the worst teams in baseball. With a walk-off win over Kansas City on Saturday night, however, they are 53-51, in second place in the AL Central, just 1 1/2 games behind Detroit.
A team that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee one year and Cliff Lee to Philadelphia the next, the Indians this time added Jimenez, who a year ago pitched the only no-hitter in Rockies history, was a stunning 15-1 when he appeared in the 2010 All-Star Game and won a Rockies-record 19 games last year.
In return, the Indians sent four players, including the two best pitching prospects in their organization, to Colorado.
There is still a "t" to cross — Jimenez must pass a physical he will take in Cleveland on Sunday. And there’s an "i" to dot — the key to the four-player package the Rockies received is officially described as the player to be named later along with the tandem of right-handed pitchers Alex White and Joe Gardner, and first baseman Matt McBride.
Unofficially, that fourth player is left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the Indians' first-round pick a year ago. He didn’t sign until the deadline, Aug. 16, and under baseball rules a player cannot be traded until a year after he signed so that formality will have to wait for 17 more days.
Both teams, however, got what they wanted.
The Indians acquired a power right-hander who stumbled amid the emotions Saturday, walking four and giving up two two-run doubles in the inning, but had more than proven he has bounced back from early-season struggles.
Nine starts into the season he was 0-5 with a 5.86 ERA. In 11 starts going into Saturday, he had gone 6-4 and more importantly had a 3.03 ERA. And the list of teams that tried to pry him from the Rockies included Cincinnati, Boston, Detroit and the New York Yankees.
He will step right into the Indians' rotation with an eye on pitching in October for a team that has gone from being questioned about its commitment to winning to being panned by its fans for giving up young arms.
Cleveland closer Chris Perez even admitted to the Cleveland media, "I think we gave up a lot of talent, but you have to give talent to get talent. Pomeranz has a lot of talent, but at the same time he's never pitched up here. In five years we might be kicking ourselves."
Pomeranz is the left-hander who a year ago was the first pitcher taken in baseball’s annual draft and the fifth selection overall. A year removed from the University of Mississippi, he has split the season between Class A and Class AA, going 3-3 in 18 starts, but compiled a 1.98 ERA while striking out 112 in 91 innings.
Armed with a fastball that will run from 92 to 95 miles per hour and a curveball that is considered his best pitch, Pomeranz could well make his big league debut by September.
White, the Indians' first-round pick in 2009, features a fastball in the low 90s that he complements with a split-fingered pitch that is his out pitch against left-handed and right-handed hitters. He opened this season at Triple-A Columbus and was 1-0 with a 1.90 ERA in four starts before being promoted to the big leagues. He won his first two starts for the Indians, but strained a ligament in the middle finger of his right hand in the third start, and went on the disabled list. He, however, is ready to begin a minor league rehab assignment and could be in the Rockies' rotation by mid-August.
And the Rockies got a glimpse of both of them during spring training. They both worked two shutout innings and struck out three Rockies in exhibition appearances.
"We can't be upset when you look at the pitchers we received in return,’’ Tulowitzki said. "They are going to be real good."
That underscores the approach that the Indians and Rockies had to the deal.
The Indians took the present with Jimenez, who already is good.
The Rockies looked to the future, feeling that it’s not far off with the likes of Pomeranz and White.
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