Jimenez struggles in home opener, falls 11-6

CLEVELAND — Ubaldo Jimenez did nothing in the Cleveland Indians home opener Monday to quell concerns about his consistency.

Jimenez followed his good first start in Toronto with a clunker in Cleveland.

Which has pretty much been the problem with him since he arrived in Cleveland.

The Indians, and the fans, do not know what pitcher will show up.

In his first start in the Indians’ second game of the season he was good. In his second start in the home opener he was bad. Very bad.

As in seven-runs-in-four-and-one-third innings bad.

As in giving-up-a-three-run-home run in the first inning bad.

As in just plain bad.

“Nothing was working,” Jimenez said after the Yankees beat Cleveland 11-6.

He pitched so poorly that even though the Indians scored six runs, they never really were in the game after the Yankees took the lead in the third.

Jimenez is as likable as anybody on the Indians, and he wants to do well as much as anyone. But since he joined Cleveland in the middle of the 2011 season there have been far more downs than ups.

His Cleveland ERA in 2011 was 5.10.

His ERA in 2012 was 5.40.

He lost 17 games in ‘12, most in the league.

He’s gone 13-22 as an Indian, 0-1 this season.

And his struggles Monday sucked the excitement out of the home opener early, when he gave up a center field blast to ex-Indian Travis Hafner in the first. Shortly after getting a large ovation from fans who cheered for him in his 10 years in Cleveland, Hafner was booed for giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead before the Indians even went to the plate.

“I thought it was a struggle for him to get loose,” manager Terry Francona said of Jimenez. “Today was one of those days where I thought he fought his mechanics a little bit. His direction to the plate wasn’t as good as it had been, so his pitches were flat. There wasn’t as much deception, especially to left-handers.”

Francona said he noticed right away Jimenez didn’t have it, but he hoped somehow he could fight through. The Indians new manager has made it clear that one of his tenets is he does not want or like to overextend his bullpen.

“Losing a game is bad,” Francona said. “Losing a game and ruining your bullpen is worse.”

Another potential problem for the Indians arose in the ninth, when catcher Carlos Santana took a Chris Perez pitch flush off his left thumb as he awkwardly tried to catch a pitch that was moving and diving.

Santana for some reason used the glove like an infielder, and the ball dove right into his thumb and wrist. He was taken for X-rays before the game ended, his left hand wrapped.

“Obviously he’s going to be sore, at best,” Francona said.

It was that kind of downer of a home opener, as the pregame pageantry quickly led to postgame blues.

Hafner wound up with two hits, four RBI and three runs against his former team.

Jimenez wound up giving up more runs in 4 1/3 than the Indians scored in nine. And after a spring in which the Indians worked on Jimenez’s mechanics, he lost them in his second start.

Instead of pitching the way he did in the opener, he seemed to flail, and when he fell behind Hafner in the first Hafner made him pay. In the fourth, Jimenez gave up a first-pitch home run to Robinson Cano. He was a mess.

“He’s a guy that’s kind of tough to time,” Hafner said. “There’s a lot of moving parts. He kind of messes with your rhythm a little bit. … I think the key for him is throwing strikes and working ahead of batters. At times he fell behind and we were able to get some runs.”

Every Indians watcher knows the importance of Jimenez to the Indians. A team that built a lineup in the offseason is going with a guy who led the league in losses as its No. 2 starter in the hope he will be the guy worthy giving up two former first-round picks to acquire.

Jimenez knows his importance, too. He admits it, and he badly wants to put questions to rest.

The season is barely an embryo, but Jimenez’s two-game inconsistency has not erased any misgivings.