Jimenez struggling with efficiency

Jimenez struggling with efficiency

PHOENIX -- Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez gained muscle, thinking it would help his endurance and allow him to pitch deeper in games. But until he becomes more efficient, the muscle won't help.

Jimenez, the Rockies' No. 3 starter, turned in his third straight inefficient outing on Monday, giving up five runs on 10 hits, three walks and two hit batters in four-plus innings. He threw 85 pitches.

In his last three starts, Jimenez hasn't made it to the fifth inning in any of them, has given up 23 hits and eight walks in 12 2/3 innings. Before that, he had a 3.00 ERA in two Cactus League starts and threw two scoreless innings in an exhibition game against the Mexican national team.

Jimenez faced at least two baserunners in each inning. He limited the damage to two runs in a second inning that began with a Joe Dillon single, an Alcides Escobar double and a walk to Brewers pitcher Manny Parra. But the Brewers took advantage of three hits and a walk in the fourth. After a single and a walk to open the fifth, manager Clint Hurdle pulled Jimenez.

"Sequences where he's good and then sequences where he's inconsistent with his fastball command," Hurdle said. "He had real good command of his slider."

Ideally, at this stage of the spring, a pitcher should be able to hurl at least six innings.

Jimenez and left-hander Franklin Morales were prospects called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs late last season to help with a stretch drive that put the Rockies in the World Series. But both are struggling with inefficiency this spring.

Signs point toward the talented Morales making the rotation, but the club hasn't come to such a decision. Left-handed vet Mark Redman and right-hander Josh Towers join Morales in a competition for two spots, with Redman seemingly having an inside track to a job.

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No matter what happens with the lower slots, the Rockies need Jimenez to get deep into games. The bullpen figures to be a strength going into the season, but short starts from anyone in the rotation could be a strain on the relief staff. Jimenez focused on pitching deep into games heading into camp, but his spring performance suggests it'll be an ongoing project.

Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said he saw poor posture coming out of his windup. Apodaca at one point asked Jimenez if he could see home plate and the catcher with both eyes, which is a key to finding the catcher's target. He was seeing it only as he was coming forward, rather than through the windup.

Compounding the issue was a tough Brewers lineup. Apodaca noted that the Brewers hit some of Jimenez's good pitches solidly.

Apodaca continued a Spring Training-long theme of not laying all problems at the feet of mechanics.

At the top of the Rockies' rotation, left-hander Jeff Francis possesses pitches that are better than ordinary but not eye-popping. However, he has become a consistent winner because he is able to identify what's working, what isn't, and pitch accordingly.

"You have to learn on the spot, not just between starts," Apodaca said. "The greatest adjustments are made during the course of the game. Those are the ones that make you grow, because you figure it out on your own two feet, from pitch to pitch. These are things he's going to have to figure out."

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