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Lames: Owners tearing hair out over Ubaldo

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Over the past several months, a special forces unit, known publicly as the Sam Fuld Six, has discreetly combed every inch of Fantasyland's rugged, unforgiving terrain. Its mission: recover the lost identities of star players.

Equipped with just the bare essentials — food, water, weapons, cans of Blast — members of this highly-trained team have searched every canyon, cave and crevasse throughout the Suckistan province in an attempt to carry out their critical task. If completed, the stat-stricken, wallowing in the basement after a sorrowful April, will finally relish success.

Thus far, the SFS has retrieved the values of such standouts as Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Santana, Mike Stanton, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Dempster and, most recently, Alex Rios. Though several commodities remain at-large — *cough* Carl Crawford — one pitcher's profitable side remains a fixture atop the unit's to-do list, Ubaldo Jimenez.

This time a season ago, the Rogaine of the Rockies was a source of statistical fertility for all who invested in him. No pitcher through the first two months was in his category. Nearly unblemished through his first 11 starts, Ubaldo tallied an obscene 0.76 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 7.67 K/9, including a no-no against Atlanta on April 17. Radar guns overheated. Cy Young conversations ensued. Unreachable expectations were established. In what was quickly becoming the Year of the Pitcher, Jimenez reigned supreme. {YSP:MORE}

But, underneath the surface, warning signs flashed. Very fortunate BABIP returns (.253 in April, .205 in May) accompanied by favorable strand rates suggested the Rockies' golden boy was actually made of pyrite. Soon enough his numbers would normalize. When spring turned to summer that's exactly what happened. From June 1 on he posted nine wins, a 4.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 144 Ks over 141.1 innings, the 84th-best line among qualifying pitchers according to Baseball Monster. Almost overnight the once unstoppable ace had been reduced to back-end duty in 12-team mixers.

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Sadly, the hangover has carried over.

After missing two starts with a cracked cuticle on his right thumb, the once beastly starter has returned with a whimper. Since his activation, he's surrendered an abhorrent 11 runs in 14 innings. Despite striking out a laudable nine batters per nine and maintaining a low contact rate (75.9), his absent command (4.95 BB/9), susceptibility to homers, decrease in groundball outs and dip in velocity have made him very human. In his first two turns, his fastball routinely sat in the low-90s, encouragingly rebounding back to normal levels (97-100 mph) in his last appearance. Still, on the season, his heater's value is nearly identical to Barry Enright's per Fangraphs, a massive decline akin to Donald Trump's ego shrinking to the size of a certain "humble" pig's.

Consuming hours of film this week to diagnose his control ills, Jimenez believes he's not only found the problem, he's already solved it. From MLB.com:

"I watched probably 10 minutes, but it was just a couple of pitches, over and over," Jimenez said. "Then I'd play them in slow motion to see everything I was doing wrong. I saw so much. I was like, 'What is this?' I was really surprised."

Jimenez (0-2, 7.20 ERA) said that his release points and arm angles are inconsistent and wrong, his balance out of whack from a combination of a disjointed early season -- caused by a cuticle injury that cost him two starts -- and from his wanting to contribute so badly that form wasn't a priority.

But he felt good after a bullpen session on Tuesday, and should be in good shape for his next start, on Saturday at San Francisco.

"It's been a long time since I was that far out of line, probably in 2009, at the beginning of the season," said Jimenez, who won 19 games and started for the National League in the All-Star Game last year. "I watched the video before I threw my bullpen and found out I was doing everything badly. It's that simple. My mechanics was everywhere. My arm was dropping down, and sometimes it was too high. My release point was one time here, one time there. I didn't have good balance, didn't stay back.

"But I was able to fix everything in the bullpen. I think I threw a perfect game."

Manager Jim Tracy says the bullpen session was "maybe the best one he's thrown to date."

Clearly, Ubaldo's best days lay ahead. He is way too talented to remain trapped in a quagmire of incompetence. With his velocity on the rise and command issues allegedly resolved, his ERA should tumble rapidly over the next few weeks.

Though an about face appears likely, it's important for prospective buyers to keep his true value in perspective. The untouchable pitcher witnessed early last season will only occasionally reemerge. In terms of true worth, Jimenez is more comparable to Max Scherzer than Tim Lincecum. Still, discounted considerably according to trade logs — in one-for-one industry deals consummated this week he was shipped for Yovani Gallardo, Jair Jurrjens, Brett Gardner and Carlos Quentin — he should be chased down by those with a K itch. Friday's outing in San Francisco could spark a turnaround.

For those who've patiently waited for Ubaldo to return to at least a respectable level, pray the heros of the Sam Fuld Six complete their objective soon.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 170.1 IP, 13 W, 3.58 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 166 K

Other passengers riding southbound (or about to) on the Lames train …

Mark Reynolds, Bal, 3B — Reynolds' all-or-nothing attitude at the dish creates many peaks and valleys over the course of the season. Throughout April, he was living at a low elevation. His .169-2-14-10 output during the showery month ranked 27th among qualifying hot corners. Buck Showalter attributed the former D'Back's slow start to a lack of mental clarity. Most expected a smoother transition to the hitter-favorable AL. Baltimore's short fences and revamped lineup pointed to a 30-100 campaign. However, his demotion to the eighth spot hasn't lent much hope. Still, his K cut-back ('10 K%: 42.3, '11: 30.6), rise in contact rate and fly-ball heavy profile project a power turnaround. With four hits, including a homer, so far in May, he could be on the brink of a numbers binge. Don't anticipate the Carlos Pena of 3B to total an average above .240, but 28-32 bombs with 85-plus RBIs are still very possible.

Clay Buchholz, Bos, SP — On the outside, the Boston righty may seem like an ideal buy low candidate. Just now entering his prime and coming off a breakthrough campaign, his unsightly 4.81 ERA and 1.78 WHIP, to the gullible fantasy player, are destined to dwindle. However, the opposite might be true. Removing the veil, Buchholz is a homely commodity with a  number of visible flaws — 0.94 K/BB, 1.60 HR/9, 5.25 xFIP, GB/FB slide. What's ailing him is an ineffective fastball. Last year his most valuable pitch, its now his worst. With his velocity down by nearly two ticks, he's drawn fewer swinging strikes and, thus, fewer strikeouts. Unless the heat returns, he will be a sitting duck against most opponents. If you can salvage anything for his services, do so immediately. Come midseason, he could become a waiver casualty even in 14-team and deeper mixers.

Gordon Beckham, ChW, 2B — Goofballs who dressed up in Wookie and storm trooper costumes for Wednesday's Star Wars Day have probably "scored" more than Beckham since opening day. Mired in a 22-for-106 slump, he currently ranks No. 35 among pivot-men in Yahoo! leagues. According to Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, the former first-rounder's pregame routine is "pristine;" preparation clearly isn't the issue. Mechanically, too, Walker believes he's fine. The meat of the problem appears to be a lack of restraint. As his swing data indicates, he's chasing more high inside cheese with marginal results. If he exudes more patience, a turnaround is definitely in the offing. However, it's understandable if shallow leaguers are unwilling to wait. His slide to the eighth-spot doesn't spark optimism. As the Piano Man recommended Wednesday, he's expendable if suitable replacements are available. Orlando Cabrera (42-percent owned), Darwin Barney (38-percent), Jonathan Herrera (22-percent) are more trustworthy short-term. Deep leaguers with adequate bench space, though, should hold on. Recall last year he hit .310 after the break.

Want to bean Brad in the head? Bring the heat on Twitter @YahooNoise.


Images courtesy of the AP/US Presswire

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