Ubaldo: 'They made me feel at home'

February 25th, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It’ll be strange, yet comforting, to see start for the Rockies on Wednesday against the Rangers, nearly nine years after his last start with the team. When Jiménez last started for the club in 2011, the outing was just plain strange.

But amid the twists and turns of his playing career, Jiménez has settled on what’s important.

“I only played with [outfielder Charlie] Blackmon before I got traded,” said Jiménez, 36, who played for the club from 2006-11 and now is in camp on a Minor League contract. “But they made me feel at home.”

After the events of July 30, 2011, no one would have thought that Jiménez would ever want to, or be welcome to, return to the Rockies.

The first part shows how quickly smiles can turn to anger.

The way Jiménez pitched in 2010 -- a season in which he finished 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA, started the All-Star Game and also pitched a no-hitter -- was considered unfathomable due to the difficulty of pitching at Coors Field, and it hasn’t been repeated.

Following the 2010 season, the Rockies extended the contracts of shortstop and outfielder , but did not do the same for Jiménez, who would get off to a slow start in 2011. His pitching improved for a period, but unhappily he watched as trade rumors began to circulate.

Then, before his July 30 start against the Padres, the screen marquees in the clubhouse at Petco Park read that Jiménez had been traded to the Indians.

But, the news of the trade wasn’t yet official, so the Rockies manager at the time, Jim Tracy, had no choice but to start Jiménez as scheduled.

“I got a call from Tracy saying, ‘Buddy, we got some trade action. I don’t know if Ubaldo is going to start, so hang with us,’” said Bud Black, who at the time was managing the Padres and is now managing Jiménez’s second act with the Rockies.

Jiménez took the mound in the bottom of the first, while Esmil Rogers warmed up in the bullpen, ready to replace him at any moment.

Pitching for what was essentially his former team, Jiménez walked two and gave up four runs before accepting goodbye hugs in the dugout after being informed the deal was done. He showered, spoke to the media, then exited.

Jiménez authored another odd moment during Spring Training in 2012. Pitching for the Indians at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick against his former team, he hit Tulowitzki on the left elbow with a pitch. There were angry words, but no punches.

In the stands with his family and friends to celebrate his 16th birthday that day was , a right-handed pitcher who is currently the Rockies No. 15 prospect per MLB Pipeline. Now, Castellani’s locker is located in the same corner as Jiménez's.

“That’s the first thing I thought when I saw that he signed,” Castellani said. “That’s the last memory I have of him. I don’t know if that’s a touchy subject, so I’ll stay away from that. But he is a super-nice guy.”

The second part of the story is accepting a second chance.

“It never came to my mind that I was going to be [back] here, but it’s fate -- it’s God’s will,” Jiménez said. “A few years after I left, I felt, ‘This is baseball. Being a sport, it’s also a business.’ Things happen in business.”

Two years since his last pitch with the Orioles, Jiménez is trying to earn a spot with the Rockies. Vice president of international scouting & development Rolando Fernandez and Latin America field coordinator Edison Lora, who was Jiménez’s pitching coach when he signed with the Rockies as a teenager, helped facilitate his return to baseball last summer.

Over the summer, Jiménez worked out at the team’s facility in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, with no guarantee the Rockies would sign him. He is getting his shot to make the Rockies’ 26-man roster, but also said he’s willing to wait at Triple-A Albuquerque if necessary.

“Since August, I’ve been working every day, working on my command of the fastball and breaking balls,” he said. “I feel I can compete anywhere. It doesn’t matter. If it’s the big leagues, the Minors, I can compete and get the job done.”