Jimenez, owner of the highest ERA in the NL over his last six starts, seeks to put one of the worst starts of his career behind him and help the Rockies snap an eight-game skid by avoiding a shocking sweep by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
Jimenez (15-2, 2.75 ERA) has seen his historic pace through two-and-a-half months turn into a nightmare over the past five weeks. The right-hander had a 1.15 ERA after 14 starts, 10 times helping the Rockies (51-50) bounce back from a loss with a dominant effort one game later.
Since June 23, however, he’s been statistically the NL’s worst starter. His ERA in that stretch jumped to 7.64 Saturday after six walks played a key role in the six runs Jimenez surrendered in two innings of a 10-2 loss at Philadelphia.
“He’s not a machine,” manager Jim Tracy said. “When you set the bar as high as you get it with him, there’s a tendency to expect to see a no-hitter every single time he goes out there. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.”
Jimenez will try to get back to playing the role of stopper Thursday, when his club sorely needs one. A Pirates victory in the finale would give them their first sweep in Colorado since 1999, and extend the Rockies’ slide to nine - their longest losing streak since a 10-game skid April 24-May 7, 2005.
“We are struggling terribly,” Tracy said after Wednesday’s 6-2 defeat. “We have to get the ebb and flow of our game back together. This is the toughest stretch for us since I took over.”
It only seems like five years since Pittsburgh (36-64) swept a road series. Garrett Jones(notes) went 4 for 4 with two homers in Wednesday’s victory, giving the Pirates a shot at their first three-game sweep away from home since July 21-23, 2008, in Houston.
Completing it seems unlikely despite Jimenez’s overall problems. Colorado’s ace is 2-0 with a 1.61 ERA in four career starts versus Pittsburgh.
Thursday’s outing might be just as significant for the Pirates’ Paul Maholm(notes) (6-8, 4.13), who could be making his last start for the team that drafted him eighth overall in 2003. Pittsburgh’s highest-paid player at $5 million, Maholm is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012, which could make the left-hander enticing to a contender before Saturday’s trade deadline.
He’s pitched well recently, posting a 2.45 ERA in his last three starts. Maholm couldn’t overcome a four-run second inning Friday against San Diego, though, the only runs he allowed over six innings in a 5-3 loss.
“I really can’t say they hit a ball hard,” Maholm told the Pirates’ official website. “… I still felt like I could go out and throw my pitches when I wanted to, and try to keep us in the game.”
Maholm has seen plenty of his pitches hit hard in five starts at Coors Field, where he’s 1-4 with a 6.44 ERA and a .366 opponent batting average.
Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes(notes) is 9 for 15 with two homers off Maholm, while his double-play partner Troy Tulowitzki(notes) is 6 for 11. Outfielder Brad Hawpe(notes), however, is 1 for 12 with nine strikeouts.