Ubaldo ready to follow up breakout '10 season

Ubaldo ready to follow up breakout '10 season

Ubaldo ready to follow up breakout '10 season
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez admitted he didn't get out much when he went back to his offseason home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He surrounded himself with family, watched movies and slipped out to the gym for a workout.

But the few times he was a man about town, he realized what he had become. Going 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA in the best pitching season in Rockies history, starting the All-Star Game and finishing third in National League Cy Young Award voting turned a Jimenez sighting into a happening.

Therefore, he made it a point not to be seen often. "I watched a lot of movies," he said with a smile. But at least he understood and appreciated the commotion.

"I'm not going to tell you I was mad about it, but it was different," Jimenez said. "I know how people felt.

"I felt like that before, for Pedro [Martinez, the former Dominican pitching star] or any big league player. I'd get to see them and go, 'Oh!' I knew what they were feeling. I was nice, I always tried to say, 'Hi.' Whatever they want me to do, I do it. I don't want to create a bad image."

Jimenez, who turned 27 last month, began Spring Training on Tuesday with the Rockies' pitchers and catchers having enjoyed a year that money couldn't buy.

The Rockies dubbed him their ace during last Spring Training. In addition to the strong final numbers and the honors, Jimenez set club records for wins, ERA and strikeouts (214). On April 17 at Atlanta, he threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history. He celebrated it all by taking a tour of Europe, where he was recognized just a couple of times in Barcelona. On part of the journey, he went to the Vatican and actually saw Pope Benedict XVI.

All that didn't happen was a new contract. But Jimenez insisted it's not like he's missing something.

During the offseason, the Rockies signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a seven-year, $134 million extension to keep him with the club through 2020. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez also inked for seven years and $80 million. It didn't make Jimenez jealous. Instead, it made him more likely to listen when the Rockies are prepared to talk.

"As a player, when you see other players signing, you think, 'I would like to be in a position to be with them for a long time,'" Jimenez said. "But I'm not thinking about that. I'm just going to be focused on doing my job."

As good as Tulowitzki and Gonzalez were last year, there is an argument that Jimenez was the team's most important player.

During the early part of the schedule, the starting rotation suffered injuries to Jeff Francis (now with the Royals) and Jorge De La Rosa, and early slumps by Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel. Jimenez's excellence every five days was a life-saver for the bullpen, which was dealing with injuries to closer Huston Street and key setup man Rafael Betancourt.

Without Jimenez's 15-1 record and 2.20 ERA through 18 starts before the All-Star break, the season could have been lost. Instead, the Rockies were battling for the NL West lead. In the second half, Jimenez went 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA, but he was hurt by lack of run support and some mistakes behind him.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if we do a couple of things just a little bit better in other parts of our game, Ubaldo should have won 20 to 20-plus games last year," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.

With each big signing, the Rockies reached out to Jimenez and explained they would negotiate with him at some point. Jimenez is under a club-friendly four-year, $10 million contract through 2012, with club options for the following two years.

Part of it is the Rockies exercise caution with pitchers. Part of it simply is it's difficult to do one major extension in an offseason and tougher to do two. Three would have been asking too much.

With a nice home for his family and six -- yes, six -- dogs, and plenty of public adoration, Jimenez said the contract can wait for the bigger deal.

"I have my life secure right now," Jimenez said. "The only thing I'm focusing on is working hard, trying to give my team a chance to win every time I go to the mound. I'm going to sign to do that every year, as long as they want me here."

Jimenez broached other subjects in a pair of phone calls to Tracy this winter. In one, he gave his best Thanksgiving wishes. In another, he called with concern after Tracy collapsed, due to a suddenly racing heartbeat, during the Winter Meetings in December.

After the European vacation ended in January, Jimenez showed he wasn't too much a jet-setter to come all the way back to his roots. Jimenez and several other Rockies pitchers joined the greenest of youngsters at the Rockies' complex in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, for a pre-Spring Training mini-camp.

Part of the reason was Jimenez was not happy with how last season finished. In trying to carry too much of a load for a Rockies team that would falter in the end, Jimenez fell into bad habits. By overthrowing his fastball and by trying to manufacture nastiness on his breaking pitches, he found himself rotating too quickly and losing control.

Jimenez didn't mind letting aspiring pitchers watch him as he challenged himself to improve.

"If you want to be a leader, if you want to show others, you have to work hard for you, right?" Jimenez said. "You have to show that you're motivated. It doesn't matter how big you are. It doesn't matter if you're No. 1. You have to do everything right to inspire.

"There are a lot of those kids that want to be like me. That's why I go there. I'm trying to set an example for the other kids."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.