CarGo, Ubaldo are MIA for Rockies

The Colorado Rockies are leading the NL West even though two of

their stars are off to slow starts.

Slugger Carlos Gonzalez is in a prolonged hitting slump that

began after he caught the flu in Pittsburgh almost a month ago, and

Ubaldo Jimenez is still searching for his command and his first win

of the season after spending time on the disabled list with a

cracked cuticle on his pitching thumb.

”I’ll fix this,” declared Gonzalez, who has expanded his

strike zone over the last few weeks and is hitting just .232 with

one home run.

”I’m going to find a way to get back,” pledged Jimenez, who is

0-2 with a 7.20 ERA a year after starting out 15-1.

None of Gonzalez’s teammates are expressing concern about their

struggling slugger because he isn’t in a fog over his funk. He just

needs to fix his swing, which started to get out of whack after he

got sick in Pittsburgh on April 8.

Just when he was starting to feel better, Gonzalez made a diving

catch at rain-soaked Citi Field three days later, and that

prolonged his recovery and contributed to a stiff back that bogged

him down upon the Rockies’ return to Denver.

Weakened, he started trying to get more power at the plate, and

that led to bad habits that quickly unraveled his sweet swing that

helped him hit .336 with 34 homers and 117 RBIs last season, a

success that he parlayed into an $80 million contract over the

winter.

Last weekend, Rockies manager Jim Tracy switched No. 3 hitter

Gonzalez with No. 5 hitter Todd Helton.

”I don’t care either way where I hit. But CarGo is our

three-hole hitter,” Helton said. ”He’s a five-tool player in the

prime of his career. He needs to bat third. I’ll just hold it until

he gets hot, which is coming very soon.”

The Rockies are stumped by Jimenez’s slump.

”Your guess is as good as mine,” Tracy said after Jimenez took

the loss against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Coors Field. ”If I had

that answer, we’d have fixed it and we would have fixed it a heck

of a lot sooner than on May 1.”

Jimenez won 19 games a year ago and was the starter for the

National League in the All-Star game but has struggled to regain

the form that left hitters flailing at his pitches and cursing his

command.

In Sunday’s 8-4 loss, Jimenez (0-2) threw three wild pitches,

tying a club record, and he allowed four runs on six hits, struck

out six and walked four in four innings.

”I don’t know what is going wrong,” Jimenez said. ”It’s

probably a problem with my mechanics. I had been trying to get my

velocity back and right now I have to improve my velocity and my

location at the same time.”

Jimenez needed 88 pitches to get through four innings in his

shortest outing of the season. Last year, he failed to pitch into

the sixth just twice in 33 starts and dominated hitters en route to

a 15-1 record at the All-Star break.

”My velocity wasn’t that bad today,” Jimenez said afterward.

”I just didn’t have my control, especially with my slider. I kept

bouncing it and bouncing it into the hitters.”

Tracy insists that there is nothing physically wrong with

Jimenez: ”He would not be pitching and we aren’t getting any

answers from him that he’s dealing with any sort of pain,” Tracy

said.

Jimenez said he’s fine physically.

”Right now my arm feels very good. I have the power back, but I

don’t have the control,” Jimenez said. ”So, I have to pull those

things together.”

A cracked cuticle on his right thumb landed Jimenez on the

15-day disabled list after opening day and he has struggled with

his control in his four starts.

”Are we concerned? Certainly we are concerned,” Tracy said.

”The concern is we are 17-9 and the ace of your staff has not

thrown a pitch in the (seventh) inning and you don’t have a win

from him.”

And the Rockies don’t have the usual oomph from Gonzalez in the

lineup, although the left fielder’s batting woes haven’t seeped

into his defense. He’s already made several outstanding diving

catches to rob batters of hits and opponents of runs.

Yet, the Rockies sorely miss his bat. The feast-or-famine lineup

has already been no-hit into the late innings three times and they

have eight three-run homers from eight different players – Gonzalez

isn’t among them.

”Of course I want a hit,” Gonzalez said. ”I’m not

concentrating on hitting home runs. I’m just trying to get good

swings and try to get back to where I was. I know it’s going to

happen. I know the hits are going to come. It’s hard because

everyone expects you to do well every night.”

While Gonzalez looks at side-by-side film from last season and

this one to try to decipher what’s gone wrong and fix the flaws in

his swing, Jimenez also is going back to the basics.

”The only thing that I can control is to try to keep working on

it in the bullpen, throwing long toss and hopefully learn how to

throw a strike again,” he said.