Jimenez remains upbeat considering struggles

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DENVER (AP) - Ubaldo Jimenez strolls around the clubhouse with a carefree attitude even if he’s smoldering inside.

The Colorado Rockies All-Star pitcher is baffled by his puzzling plunge in production this season, a slump that’s tested his usually easygoing demeanor.

This time last year, Jimenez was putting up numbers that vaulted him into the conversation as one of the game’s best pitchers.

Now, he’s mired in a skid that has his record at 1-7, his ERA at 4.63 and everyone wondering: Where’s Ubaldo of last year?

Always the optimist, Jimenez believes he’s close to recapturing that form. By poring over game film from last year, and paying close attention to every aspect of his unorthodox delivery, Jimenez thinks he’s uncovered some tiny flaws.

Not only that, but the zip on his fastball has steadily returned with the weather warming up. The 27-year-old Dominican flamethrower hit 99 mph with a pitch against the Los Angles Dodgers on Sunday.

To him, that’s an encouraging sign.

“I’m getting the strength back in my arm. I’m throwing lower strikes,” said Jimenez, who will start Saturday night in an interleague game against the Detroit Tigers. “Once I get everything together, throwing strikes and getting my velocity back, I’m going to be good.”

Jimenez insists his arm feels fine. And while he contended with a bothersome cracked cuticle on his pitching thumb early in the season _ landing him briefly on the disabled list _ there’s no lingering issues.

His biggest hindrance has been trying to consistently locate his fastball that dances and dives. Part of that has to do with his arm slot being out of sync, leading him to release the ball from different points every time he winds up. He’s attempting to iron that out in bullpen sessions, with pitching coach Bob Apodaca watching over his shoulder.

Apodaca thinks Jimenez is on the verge of coming out of his funk.

“I’m kind of liking the direction he’s going,” Apodaca said. “We just keep working hard whether he’s going bad or whether he’s going well. We keep working on the fundamentals.”

That’s the thing about Jimenez: No matter how disgruntled he becomes, he keeps irritation at bay _ or tries to anyway. In times like this, his happy-go-lucky attitude comes in handy.

Once he takes the mound, though, that demeanor ends and he’s all business.

“He’s an easygoing guy in the clubhouse. He’s not an easygoing guy out there,” Apodaca said. “Don’t misinterpret nice from being a competitor. There is as much fire in him even with an easy facade.”

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