Jimenez seeks return trip to bigs in '07

Jimenez seeks return trip to Majors

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed pitching prospect Ubaldo Jimenez appeared in two September games in 2006, including a mature starting effort against the Cubs in the season finale at Wrigley Field. But the immediate plan for him this season is to complete his development at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Jimenez, 23, understood it then, and he realizes the Rockies reinforced the possibility that he would return to the Minors after they made several pitching acquisitions this offseason. But Jimenez, beyond possessing a Major League fastball and curve, has a big-time sense of taste.

"It was something like when you get to the big leagues and you pitch your first game and you taste a little bit, you're like, 'Wow, I've got to be here,'" Jimenez said. "I've got to work really hard to be here as soon as possible."

As a means toward satisfying his big-league hunger, Jimenez made five starts for Licey in the Dominican Winter League, but he posted mediocre numbers (1-1, 6.15 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks). During the early portion of Spring Training, the righty has been attempting to change the Rockies' plans.

On Thursday, Jimenez pitched two scoreless innings in the Rockies' 4-3 victory against the White Sox at Hi Corbett Field. He overcame two walks and survived a line drive off his forehead, and he even had the presence of mind to pick up the ball and throw it to first for the out.

The next morning, his teammates watched the replay of Jimenez taking one off the noggin. But pitching coach Bob Apodaca said those who matter are watching everything Jimenez is doing. There's no one saying Jimenez can't make it, either in the rotation or the bullpen.

"He's under the radar; he's not under my radar," Apodaca said. "There's not the necessity that he has to make the team, but if this guy stands out, I'm sure there are going to be arguments for him."

Jimenez's quick route to the Majors was interrupted in 2004, when he suffered a stress reaction in his throwing shoulder and missed most of the year.

After an up-and-down 2005, when he worked on correcting a delivery flaw -- a loop of the throwing hand at the start of the windup -- that could have created the stress reaction, Jimenez stood out last season at Double-A Tulsa and Colorado Springs (combined 13-4, 3.80 ERA and 150 strikeouts).

Jimenez made his Major League debut with a scoreless inning against the Dodgers at Coors Field on Sept. 26. Against the Cubs on Oct. 1, he was charged with four runs, three earned, in 6 2/3 innings, but he walked off the mound with a 4-2 lead. Jimenez did not figure in the decision as the Rockies lost, 8-5.

"You can't put a number or a grade on what that can do for a young man's confidence -- and they threw their lineup at us, too," Apodaca said. "It bolstered his confidence coming into Spring Training. He's giving us all the signs that this young man is very close to breaking through."

This offseason, Jimenez worked on command of his fastball to the outside part of the plate against right-handed hitters. The delivery flaw cropped up at various points last season and affected his command on the glove side.

But through repetitions with roving pitching coach Jim Wright, Tulsa pitching coach Bo McLaughlin and Colorado Springs pitching coach Chuck Kniffin, the arm loop has been all but eliminated on his fastball, curve and changeup.

Apodaca said the hook occurs mostly on the slider Jimenez is adding, but it will be corrected as he becomes comfortable.

After his work at Wrigley, where he not only pitched well but went 1-for-3 and scored a run, Jimenez knows he could become comfortable on the big stage.

"I threw 6 2/3 innings and gave the team a chance to win the game -- that's what I'll remember," he said. "That and my first hit -- I can hit the ball, but not too hard.

"The Rockies went out and got some pretty good pitchers, and they're pretty good pitchers. They're going to make the team better. It's just that whenever they give me a chance, I want to show them that I'm ready."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.