- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

TUCSON, ARIZ. (AP) - Ubaldo Jimenez’s best friend on the mound is his four-seam fastball.

It’s also been his foe at times.

That’s why the Colorado Rockies pitcher is attempting to become less reliant on a blazing pitch that can reach 98 mph.

By incorporating a trustworthy change and curve, Jimenez thinks he can make the next leap in his evolution as a pitcher.

Not to mention make that fastball even more fearsome.

“He has seen what he’s capable of doing,” Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. “Now, he’s visualizing what he needs to do.”

Mainly, be in better command of his secondary pitches, one of the things that’s been holding Jimenez back.

His goal this spring is simple _ fix that unevenness.

“I’m trying to be consistent,” Jimenez said. “I want to be more consistent.”

The Rockies are depending on him to cultivate that consistency, especially with Jeff Francis scratched from the rotation following season-ending shoulder surgery.

He’s relishing the role of joining Aaron Cook as a reliable front-line starter, feeling like he’s ready for the responsibility.

“It’s going to make me work harder,” said Jimenez, who signed a four-year, $10 million deal in the offseason. “I have to be there for my team.”

The 25-year-old Jimenez is coming off a season in which he led the Rockies in strikeouts (172) and starts (34), while posting a 3.99 ERA during his first full season in the majors. He also won 12 games, becoming the fifth righty in team history to win that many in a season.

Now if he could just eliminate the peaks and valleys.

Jimenez showed flashes of brilliance in ‘08, like his 14 1-3 inning scoreless streak in July.

But the run was quickly followed by a stretch where he allowed 21 earned runs in 25 2-3 innings.

Just part of his growth in Apodaca’s opinion.

“All the intangibles are in place _ work habit, the want-to, it’s all there,” Apodaca said. “I really believe it’s his time. He could be a big winner.”

That is, if he can master his control. That’s the next step.

“There’s no ceiling on his talent,” said Jason Marquis, who’s fighting for a spot in the starting rotation after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs. “His stuff is very electric and he has this quiet confidence. He has a chance to be special. His issue, though, is probably command _ when he commands that fastball, he’s pretty much unhittable.”

Pedro Martinez knows all about harnessing a blazing fastball.

So Jimenez sought him out, listening to Martinez talk about pitching as the two Dominican Republic hurlers gabbed at the World Baseball Classic.

Inside, Jimenez was bursting with bliss.

There was his boyhood idol, the pitcher he would race home to watch, dispensing advice _ directly to him.

“It was unbelievable,” Jimenez said, his eyes lighting up. “I asked him a lot.”

They chatted for quite a while around the batting cage, Martinez revealing his tricks to setting up hitters and what counts are best for certain pitches.

Even in his glee, Jimenez took diligent mental notes.

Then Jimenez showed his idol-turned mentor he was paying close attention as he went out and turned in a sensational start for the Dominican in the WBC last week. Jimenez set a tournament record with 10 strikeouts in four innings during a loss to the Netherlands.

He resembled a taller Martinez, both in his composure and demeanor on the mound.

“Talking with Pedro, it was a dream come true,” Jimenez said. “Every single thing he does, he does with a purpose. He doesn’t do anything just to do it. I want to be like that.”

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