04/01/2004 3:33 PM ET
Jimenez ready for any role
RHP says he can do anything from start to close
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
|Jose Jimenez enters his first season with the Indians after four with the Rockies. (Paul Connors/AP)
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Jose Jimenez can't forget June 25, 1999.
Jimenez, then a 25-year-old rookie with the Cardinals, found himself in a duel with Randy Johnson.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Jimenez looked up at the scoreboard and noticed he'd held the Diamondbacks without a hit. He kept the D-Backs hitless as he headed into the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 lead.
Getting the first two outs quickly, Jimenez needed to retire the pesky Tony Womack and baseball history would be his.
"I was hoping it was no bunt," Jimenez remembered thinking to himself. "Secondly, I was trying to be perfect. I was one out away from a no-hitter -- 'Oh, wow, man, I can't let it go away!'"
Well, Womack didn't bunt, and Jimenez didn't let him get on base either. His no-hitter was completed, stored away in baseball's treasure trove of masterpieces forever. It's since become the highlight of his career.
He has, though, had other successes, including a 41-save season for the Rockies in 2002. That gave Jimenez a rare baseball double: He became the fourth pitcher to save 40 games and pitch a no-hitter.
Since the no-hitter, saves have become Jimenez's signature. He has established a reputation as a solid reliever. It's that talent that made the 30-year-old right-hander attractive last off-season to the Indians.
But with the Tribe, his job won't be so much saving games, but setting up saves for closer David Riske. Jimenez will be a key piece in the back end of the bullpen, which people expect to be one of the team's strengths.
"I can close, I can start, I can be a middle reliever," he said. "I know what I have in me; I know what I can do."
Ask him what he prefers, and Jimenez offers a hint. He won't come out and say he likes one over the other. He just puts it like this: "I like to pitch first. Second, I like to be a big part of the game."
Reading between the lines, he seems to be suggesting that he favors the tension and intense pressure of starting or closing over middle relief. Not that middle relief is an unimportant job; it is important. But it isn't the job that'll put a big-league pitcher in the heart of the action.
The end of the game and the start seemingly have more appeal to Jimenez than the middle part.
He has, however, accepted the latter role with the Tribe, which is paying him $1 million this season. The club had no reason to believe Jimenez would balk at the setup role because it had gotten a glowing recommendation from bench coach Buddy Bell, who managed Jimenez in Colorado.
"Jose was one of my favorite guys when I was in Colorado just because of what he did," Bell said. "He never let any of that altitude stuff ever affect him. He's a tough guy."
Jimenez is also a guy with a power sinker, a pitch that his deceptive motion makes even more difficult for Major League hitters to handle. It's also a pitch that can lead to ground balls that often end up in rally-killing double plays.
What team wouldn't want a set-up man who can produce these?
For sure, the Indians can use a pitcher like that. In fact, they are counting on Jimenez to fortify a bullpen that has lost one of its key members, veteran closer Bob Wickman, to elbow problems. With Wickman on the mend until July, the burdens on relievers Scott Stewart and Rafael Betancourt have become heavier.
They will be the bridge to Riske. But so will Jimenez, even though he might want the Indians to think about shoehorning him into their unsettled starting rotation. That's not likely to happen, which isn't going to weigh on a seasoned hand like Jimenez -- his success as a starter notwithstanding.
"I've been doing both," said Jimenez, who has had an uneven performance this spring. "But I didn't come here for a particular reason; I came here to pitch. Whatever I'm gonna be, I'll find a way to be what I'm gonna be."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.