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Ubaldo takes his place with Tribe

Ubaldo takes his place with Tribe

Ubaldo takes his place with Tribe
BOSTON -- Ubaldo Jimenez was at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon, and he made a point of introducing himself to every Cleveland player to walk through the clubhouse door.

After getting acquainted with his new teammates, the former National League Cy Young Award candidate -- who will make his Indians debut on Friday against the Rangers -- walked out to the right-field bullpen and gave pitching coach Tim Belcher and a few onlookers a taste of what he's about to bring to a team looking to make its first postseason push since 2007.

"He looked good," Belcher said. "We like what we see. He's a big, strong, tall guy with good stuff. Top-of-the-rotation-type stuff."

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It's the type of stuff the Indians are hoping Jimenez can bring to the second-youngest team in the Majors -- although at 27, the right-hander reminded reporters that he's no veteran either.

"I'm excited for any situation," Jimenez said. "It doesn't matter if I have to be a teacher or a student. And there's a lot of things that I'll share with my teammates, but at the same time, I want to learn, too. I'm still a student. I have to be a student."

Jimenez was born in the Dominican Republic and signed by the Rockies when he was just 17, making Colorado the only team he's known. After weeks of trade rumors, the Indians had a deal in place to bring him to Cleveland on Saturday, when he was scheduled to start for the Rockies.

Colorado had him pitch anyway, and after a rough first inning, Jimenez was removed and officially notified of the deal. He was surprised that the Rockies would have him start after a trade was already on the table.

"Even before the game, I knew I was traded," he said. "I mean, everybody knew -- my teammates, coaches, even guys from the Minor Leagues. They called me before the game, they're like, 'You got traded.' I'm like, 'What?' I guess I was the only one that no one told."

Jimenez walked four and allowed four runs in a single inning of work.

"When I got to the mound, I was trying to stay focused, but it's not easy," he said. "I knew already I wasn't part of the team. I was trying to do my best, but my mind wasn't on the game. I got traded. Especially for me, being the first time, it was a really difficult situation."

But Jimenez said his goodbyes, packed his things and left Colorado for a new beginning with Cleveland, his first stop in the American League.

"When I heard, I got really excited, especially the way they've been playing," he said. "They're only three games behind. They already know how to win, it's not a secret. They know ... they're not where they are because of a fluke. They know what it takes to win every day.

"So I mean, the only thing I can do is try to be part of the team and try to go to the stadium every day with a lot of energy and a lot of passion for the game. And try to root for them whenever I'm not pitching. I'm going to try to be a good cheerleader."

After shooting out to a 15-1 start, including a no-hitter, and a 2.20 ERA last season, Jimenez was an easy choice as starter of the NL All-Star team. It was his breakout season, and one that opened a lot of eyes to the pitcher who led the Majors in average pitch speed for two straight seasons.

The second half of his 2010 season wasn't as strong, as he won just four games and posted a 3.80 ERA. And the beginning of 2011 was no different, leaving some people to wonder what happened to the Jimenez of old.

Jimenez's fastball averaged around 96 mph over his four seasons in the Majors, but it's dropped to 94 mph this year, consistent with the drop in speed of his slider, curveball and changeup.

But the Indians aren't worried.

"When you go down from 98 to 95, it's not real worrisome," Belcher said. "And I'm not even sure it's gone down that much. I talked to his [former] pitching coach, Bob Apodaca in Colorado, and he said last year, the whole year, he averaged 96. That's setting the bar pretty high. So if it's down a little bit and he's throwing 93 to 95, c'mon. You're splitting hairs, really."

"In Spring Training, my second game, I was ready to let it go," Jimenez said. "I was throwing 97, 98. But after that I [hurt my groin]. And after that I couldn't let it go anymore. So that's why, when I got to the season, I didn't have my velocity."

After a disappointing start, in which he went 0-5 with a 5.86 ERA, Jimenez has picked it up. Not counting that final one-inning outing with the Rockies, he is 6-4 with a 3.03 ERA over his last 71 1/3 innings.

"He's been so good up here in the big leagues that people seem to think he's been pitching here for 10 years," said manager Manny Acta. "That's not the case. I think he, like Asdrubal Cabrera, are guys that are probably just getting into their prime. I don't think he's a finished product yet. He has shown this year that most of the struggles in the beginning of the season are due to his groin injury and [the cuticle] infection [on his right thumb]. And he tried to pitch through it."

Right-hander Josh Tomlin, who has enjoyed a breakout season of his own, leading the team with 11 wins, had a chance to watch his new teammate throw a few pitches before Wednesday's game with the Red Sox.

"I had to check it out," Tomlin said. "Man, he's got great stuff. To have someone of his caliber come to the team that can help you win, I feel like everyone is excited about that. He can help us win ballgames. That's why he's here."

Belcher believes that Jimenez will not only help the club when he takes the mound every five days, he'll have an effect on the young pitching staff that will go a long way.

"And the other thing he'll bring, too, is a little bit more competition within the rotation," Belcher said. "Because now he comes in as a clear top-of-the-rotation-type guy. There will be some guys that will poke around and say, 'Man, I was looking a lot better on this club a week ago than I am now.' They might pick their game up a little bit, and that's good. A little healthy competition among the ranks is good."

"You know he's going to go out there and give you all he's got every time," added Tomlin. "He's been a proven ace in the big leagues, and we just want to follow that and do all we can to try to keep doing what we've been doing all year."

Jimenez has yet to throw a pitch for the Indians, and though he has brought hefty expectations with him, the consensus among the players is that he's a welcome addition, one that could give the team the extra boost it needs to catch the first-place Tigers and make a postseason run.

"I've known this kid for a few years," Acta said. "He's not your average guy. He's a well-respected man, a very good teammate. Our clubhouse fits him well. He's an A-1 individual."

And one with a new number. After wearing No. 38 with the Rockies, Joe Smith's number, Jimenez will wear No. 30.

He just wants to fit in.

"When I got to the clubhouse today, I didn't know what to expect," he said. "It's been my first time being traded. But the guys in the clubhouse made it really easy for me to get accustomed. They've been really friendly and treated me like I've been here for two years."

The next goal: Make the playoffs.

"The Indians got me because they think good about me," Jimenez said. "That's going to make me work harder every single day, because I know they're expecting good things from me, and I'm going to do everything possible to help them win. I'm excited."

Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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