Indians-Blue Jays Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- While it took him a while to get going, Ubaldo Jimenez appears to have found his groove.
Jimenez looks for his recent success to carry over as the visiting Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays continue a three-game set Saturday.
Though his 5.79 ERA over the first two months left much to be desired, Jimenez (8-7, 4.50 ERA) has picked up the pace over his last seven starts, going 3-3 with a 2.93 ERA while striking out 44 in 46 innings. The right-hander, who's also limited opponents to a .226 average over that stretch, credits his improvement to a change in his delivery.
"It was all about the mechanics," he told MLB's official website. "I've been able to go out there just thinking about getting everybody out, instead of thinking, 'I have to do this or that to get better."
In his final start before the All-Star break, Jimenez gave up two runs, five hits and fanned a season best-tying eight over six innings last Saturday during a 7-3 victory over Tampa Bay.
"I'm only thinking about what I'm going to do in my next start and how I can help the team," he said.
Jimenez is 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in two career matchups with the Blue Jays (43-44). He gave up two runs in seven innings of a 7-4, 12-inning loss April 7 in his season debut.
Jimenez has a tough act to follow after Justin Masterson's superb performance in Friday's 1-0 series-opening victory. Masterson threw seven innings of five-hit ball and Travis Hafner provided all the offense with his eighth homer.
"An excellent pitching performance," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
The AL East-worst Blue Jays, meanwhile, have dropped four of five thanks in part to hitting .216 - including a .179 mark with runners in scoring position. Toronto went 0 for 4 in such situations Friday.
"Any time you lose it's frustrating, whether you lose 10-0 or 1-0," losing pitcher Ricky Romero said.
The Blue Jays try to get back on track behind Aaron Laffey (0-1, 2.67). The left-hander has made the most of his opportunity while filling in for Toronto's injury-plagued rotation, going 0-1 with a 2.50 ERA over three starts.
"He keeps the game under control, throws a lot of strikes, doesn't get rattled in certain situations and is not going to pitch away from contact," manager John Farrell said. "Overall he's done a good job for us."
Laffey, though, wasn't particularly sharp July 6, yielding four runs and eight hits over six innings of a 4-2 road loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Laffey, who spent the first four years of his career with the Indians (45-41), has never started against his former team. He threw two scoreless innings of relief versus Cleveland in a 12-3 loss April 8, 2011, while with Seattle.
Laffey will need to be wary of Casey Kotchman, who's 9 for 10 with four doubles in their matchups.
Hoping to match a season high with its fourth consecutive road victory, Cleveland, winner of seven of 10 overall, has hit .282 in taking five of six at Toronto.
Updated July 14, 2012