Jimenez gets the honor to start for NL
Rockies right-hander leads Majors with 15 victories
ANAHEIM -- Long before he fashioned a borderline historic first half to this season with the Rockies, which led to his being named Monday to start for the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game, Ubaldo Jimenez nearly packed his golden right arm and went home.
As a youth in the Dominican Republic, Jimenez played center field and loved throwing out runners at the plate. The team loved his arm and tried to move him to pitcher, only he wouldn't budge.
"They would say, 'If you're not going to pitch, you're not going to play,'" Jimenez recalled with a laugh on Monday. "Then I said, 'I'll go home,' because I didn't like to pitch."
It took the kind words of his coach after he moved to a new team at age 14 1/2, Alexis 'Cardi' Ramirez. It was also a frank realization of a shortcoming that would curtail his dream.
"He talked to me at the practice field," Jimenez said. "I was a position player for about half a year. But the thing was, I realized, I couldn't hit. And I was anxious to sign. I saw so many of my friends signing pro. I wanted a faster way to get where I wanted to be."
This year, Jimenez has gone places few pitchers have traveled in recent years. Jimenez, who will start against the Rays' David Price for the American League on Tuesday, leads baseball in wins. One of the wins was the first no-hitter in Rockies history, a 4-0 victory over the Braves on April 17. He is one of 13 pitchers in the last 30 years to earn 15 wins in his team's first 85 games.
Through his first 14 starts, Jimenez held a 1.15 ERA and was sending historians to the books every time he took the mound. But a three-start slump during which he went 1-0, but with an 8.66 ERA, opened the argument for the Marlins' Josh Johnson, the Phillies' Roy Halladay and the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright to receive the nod from the NL manager, the Phillies' Charlie Manuel.
But the dominant version of Jimenez returned Thursday, when he vanquished the Cardinals, holding them to one run and three hits in eight innings of a 4-2 victory. At 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA, Jimenez, 26, made it practically impossible to deny him the start in his first Midsummer Classic appearance.
But it's quite possible that Jimenez had simply done enough to win the favor of Manuel.
"He's what I call a horse, and so is Josh Johnson," Manuel said. "He's the guy I choose because in the games and the series we've played against the Rockies, he's always stood out. He's definitely my pick.
"This guy is 15-1. The record speaks for itself."
Manuel's Phillies have faced Jimenez in three postseason games since 2007.
In the 2007 NL Division Series, Jimenez started the final game of the Rockies' three-game sweep. A late-season callup who played a major role in the team's march to the playoffs, Jimenez went 6 1/3 innings and gave up one run on three hits, with five strikeouts and four walks in a matchup with veteran Jamie Moyer. The Rockies eventually won the game, 2-1.
This season, Jimenez is 11-0 in his starts after his team loses -- a key reason the Rockies entered the break two games behind the Padres in the NL West.
"Everything about his record is legit," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after Jimenez defeated his club in his last start.
Jimenez hopes he can be a part of the NL winning in the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 1995.
"I want to say it's a huge honor for me just to be out there," Jimenez said. "Having the chance to share all those moments tomorrow with all the stars, just to be there, I'm honored just to be in the clubhouse. Hopefully we can put it together and break the losing streak."
Jimenez will be the first Rockies pitcher to start an All-Star Game. He is the fifth Colorado pitcher to be invited. Brian Fuentes, now with the Angels, made three appearances from 2005-07. The others were starters -- Mike Hampton in '01, Shawn Chacon in '03 and Aaron Cook in '07. Chacon didn't participate because of an injury.
It's not a bad honor for a guy who wanted to use his arm from center field, not the mound.
"If they had a runner on second base and he was trying to go home, I'd get him every single time," Jimenez said. "There's no way you were going to score on me."
Thanks to a perceptive coach, Jimenez is sending that message from the pitcher's mound.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.