Senior Writer

Jimenez must be great for Cleveland to hang with big boys


CLEVELAND -- Not a bad home debut for Ubaldo Jimenez. Not bad at all.

But the Indians didn't trade for him to beat the Tigers in August.

Don't take that the wrong way. Cleveland's 10-3 win behind Jimenez Wednesday night pulled the Indians to within two games of Detroit in the suddenly-competitive-again American League Central.

With Jimenez in the rotation and new local hero Jason Kipnis in the lineup, you'd have to say the Indians have a chance against the favored Tigers.

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But the Indians didn't trade for Ubaldo just to get them to October.

For their Ubaldo gamble to work, Jimenez has to be the Indians' Justin Verlander. He can't just be good. He has to be great.

He has to be a true No. 1 starter. He has to be the guy who would give the Indians a fighting chance in a playoff series against the Red Sox or Yankees.

It doesn't need to be this year. The Indians agreed to the Jimenez trade because he's under control at an extremely reasonable price through 2013.

But the only reason for the Indians to trade both Alex White and Drew Pomeranz -- both potential No. 1 starters down the line -- was that they believe Jimenez is a true No. 1 right now, the kind of pitcher who wins you a World Series.

Other teams didn't believe that. The Yankees didn't even think he was a true No. 2 behind CC Sabathia. The Tigers had their doubts. The Rockies thought Jimenez had slipped to the point where he was more of a No. 3 starter.

That's not to say the Indians are wrong, and it's not to say that the Jimenez trade was a mistake. At times Wednesday, when he went eight innings and allowed three somewhat tainted runs while striking out six, Jimenez dominated the Tiger lineup.

Ubaldo Jimenez needs to be a true No. 1 starter for the Indians. (Getty Images)  
Ubaldo Jimenez needs to be a true No. 1 starter for the Indians. (Getty Images)  
He wasn't electric (his fastest fastball clocked in at 95.5 mph, about average for him this year but down a few clicks from 2010), but he was good -- even very good.

"I feel like he could have thrown a shutout," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He was fantastic."

But let's remember, when Acta was asked Wednesday afternoon what Jimenez can be as a true No. 1, he brought up Verlander's name.

"Whenever we go somewhere, people are going to ask, 'Are we going to see that guy or not?'" Acta said. "It's the same as when we play Detroit. The first thing you ask is, 'Are we going to see Verlander or not?'"

And when you talk to major-league scouts and coaches about a possible playoff series between the Tigers and either the Yankees or Red Sox, Verlander's name is the first one that comes up. In a five-game series where he could pitch twice, Verlander would give the Tigers a chance.

That's who the Indians need Jimenez to be. They need him to team with the impressive Justin Masterson to give them a 1-2 that could beat the big boys.

"Every pitcher wants to be that guy," Jimenez said. "Of course. I just see myself as it doesn't matter what team we face. If I execute pitchers, I can get outs."

He also sees himself as the guy who can still throw in the upper 90s, even though he said Wednesday, "I'm a more mature pitcher. It's not like I have to throw 98 or 99."

Remember, Verlander throws 98 or 99. Or 102.

The number isn't important. For this to really work for the Indians, Jimenez needs to be Verlander-dominant.

"You need a guy like that, not to make it, not to win the division," Acta said. "But how far are you going to go?"

That is the real question.

The Indians have serious financial constraints. They like the group of position players they've developed -- and Kipnis, who had five hits Wednesday, is a big part of it -- but they don't know how long they'll be able to afford to keep it together.

As good as White and Pomeranz could be, could they have been October difference-makers while Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera and the others are still in Cleveland? The Indians weren't so sure.

The 2 ½ years they have Jimenez under control fit their window for winning. That's why they were willing to part with White and Pomeranz, two pitchers they never saw themselves handing over.

As so many people around the Indians said Wednesday, this was not the type of trade the Indians have ever made. They've been buyers at the deadline before, but never buyers at the highest level of the market.

"We've acquired a lot of players before, but never one like this," Indians president Mark Shapiro said. "The guy walked in here, and he's arguably our biggest star."

Funny he should say that, on a night that ended with the Progressive Field crowd chanting Kipnis' name. But he's right.

For the Indians to be right on this one, though, Jimenez needs to do a lot more than shut down the Tigers in August.

He needs to be better than good, better than very good, better even than fantastic.

He needs to be a true No. 1. He needs to be Verlander.


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