As a youth in the Dominican Republic, Ubaldo Jimenez recalled reading in school history books about pitcher Juan Marichal, the former San Francisco Giants great who was the first Dominican player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Now Jimenez’s 2010 start for the Rockies has his name being mentioned alongside of that of Marichal, as well as other all-time greats.
When Jimenez entered AT&T Park on Monday — he had to walk past a bronze statue of Marichal en route to the visiting team player entrance — Marichal owned one of three ERAs in history lower than his 0.88 through 10 starts. Marichal had a 0.59 in 1966, Hoyt Wilhelm posted a 0.83 in 1959 and Eddie Cicotte had a 0.84 in 1919.
All Jimenez did Monday was shut out the Giants, 4-0, and drop his ERA to 0.78.
Jimenez smiles humbly when reminded that, at least for two months, he has written his name in history alongside those of some of the greatest pitchers in history.
“I’m just proud for what I’ve been able to accomplish this year,” Jimenez said. “It’s always big to be mentioned with a guy like Juan Marichal. He’s the only Dominican in the Hall of Fame. I’m just humble for the opportunity, for the chance.”
Jimenez said he was pitching for the Rockies in Denver the 2007 World Series when he met Marichal and they’ve talked “a couple of times.”
Jimenez said he never copied the towering leg kick, which is depicted with the statue and is shown in thousands of pictures. He never thought he’d have anything in common with Marichal. He thought he’d never get any closer to Marichal than the textbook.
“I was in high school,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t even think I was going to sign with any team. I was just playing baseball for love. That was when I was around 15, so I only thought about playing the game for love, for passion.”
Now he can’t help but play for history. And his teammates can’t help but be aware.
Rockies infielders Clint Barmes and Troy Tulowitzki made strong defensive plays in the seventh. Center fielder Carlos Gonzalez helped preserve the shutout by crashing into the wall to grab Bengie Molina’s leadoff drive in the eighth.
With each inning on the MLB.com Gameday application, Jimenez’s ERA is updated after each batter. Gonzalez said players don’t really need to see the stats. They’re quite aware.
“I wanted him to stay and finish the game,” Gonzalez said. “Of course we all know what he’s doing. We want to make sure he gets everything from us. We want to be able to help him.”
An intriguing possibility for the Rockies presented itself when the Astros asked unconditional release waivers on second baseman Kazuo Matsui after their game with the Rockies on Wednesday night. Matsui, of course, was one of the key cogs in the Rockies’ run to the 2007 World Series. Matsui, 34, signed with the Astros after that season. He hit .293 with 20 stolen bases in 96 games for the Astros in 2008 but dropped to .250 with 19 steals in 132 games in 2009.
Any club has the right to claim Matsui by Monday. The Rockies aren’t inclined to do so and it’s not clear if anyone wants to pick him up an clear a roster spot for him. However, if he clears waivers, it’s fair to say the Rockies have reason to be intrigued.
Matsui was a superstar in Japan. After much fanfare, he signed with the Mets for the 2004 season but didn’t blossom in the Majors until joining the Rockies in a 2006 trade. Matsui hit .300 with six home runs, 56 RBIs and 40 steals in 132 total games with the Rockies. His high point with the Rockies was a grand slam in the 10-5 victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.
Also, Matsui was well-liked by teammates and management.
What role would he have with the Rockies today? Just guessing here, but he certainly could add depth. He would more likely have to go to Triple-A Colorado Springs for regular playing time, but could be a reasonable alternative if Rockies starting second baseman Clint Barmes continues to struggle offensively and defensively. The drawback about Matsui, however, would be that it would be hard to ask him to play shortstop on days that Troy Tulowitzki rests. Barmes can do that. Also, Matsui’s decline the last two years left veteran baseball observers questioning how much he has left, especially after years of back issues.
Still, it would be worth it for the Rockies to at least consider approaching Matsui to increase depth.