DENVER -- Ubaldo Jimenez said there is no longer reason to worry about the cut cuticle that sent him to the disabled list or the effect it has on his grip.
But Rockies manager Jim Tracy conceded that Jimenez's rough performances, the latest coming in Sunday's 8-4 loss to the Pirates in front of 35,012 at Coors Field, are becoming at least some cause for worry.
"Are we concerned? I mean, yeah, certainly we're concerned," Tracy said. "What you're concerned about is the fact that you're 17-9 and the ace of your staff hasn't thrown a pitch in the sixth inning yet. We don't have a win from him, obviously. I'm just wondering where we'd be, in relation to the position we're already in, if the consistency of this man that we've grown very accustomed to was showing up."
Jimenez actually did pitch into the sixth inning in an Opening Day loss to the D-backs, but he lasted just four innings on Sunday, his shortest outing of the season.
What didn't show up for Jimenez in this start, his third since returning from the 15-day DL on April 19, was control. The right-hander, a 19-game winner a season ago, was hurt by four walks (one intentional), three wild pitches and an inability to make a two-out pitch.
Runners reached base in every inning against Jimenez, but the damage was done in a four-run Pirates second. After walking Ryan Doumit to lead off the inning, Jimenez surrendered singles to Pedro Alvarez and Ronny Cedeno, the latter a well-executed bunt that plated Doumit.
After Jimenez retired the next two hitters, Xavier Paul belted a two-run triple to right-center field and Garrett Jones followed with a run-scoring double.
"I think he left a fastball up," Paul said of his triple. "I was just trying to stay aggressive and look for a pitch that I could drive. Ubaldo, he's a great pitcher. But he made a mistake, and sometimes you've got to try and make him pay for it. I got lucky that time."
Jimenez (0-2), still wearing his patented smile after the game, said he is fine physically. He is still trying to find the proper release point, but his arm feels strong, he said.
"The only thing I can control is trying to keep working on it in the bullpen, throwing long toss and hopefully learning how to throw a strike again," said Jimenez, whose ERA climbed to 7.20
Jimenez wasn't the only Rockies pitcher hurt by erratic control.
Esmil Rogers, working out of the bullpen after having his next start pushed back to May 7, walked a pair and gave up four hits as part of a four-run Pirates fifth that blew the game open.
"When you throw 128 pitches between two guys in the first five innings of the game, the ebb and flow of the game and the way you want it to go is lost," Tracy said.
Still, the Rockies had their chances.
In the fourth, Ryan Spilborghs' pinch-hit single scored Seth Smith to cut the lead to 4-2. Alfredo Amezaga, making his first start since 2009, came up with runners at second and third and hit a hard liner off Pirates starter Charlie Morton, but it was straight at second baseman Neil Walker, ending the inning.
"If it's a step to [Walker's] left or a step to his right, the game's tied," Tracy said.
Colorado threatened again in the sixth, when Dexter Fowler's double to right scored a pair and put runners at second and third, but Amezaga struck out and Helton, who registered his seventh multi-hit game of the season, flew out to left.
Morton was effective, if not superb, in moving his record to 3-1. The right-hander allowed four runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings. He also effectively worked his way around five walks. "He never let the game get away from him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Pitching here, when you walk guys, it usually comes in on the bad side for you." The Rockies begin a six-game road trip to Arizona and San Francisco on Tuesday, and Sunday ended with Colorado 4 1/2 games ahead in the National League West.
Jimenez, who struck out six on Sunday, said he has felt frustration knowing that he hasn't contributed to that lead, but he said he is confident that he will return to the form that made him one of the league's most dominating pitchers last season.
"I guess I'm worried about the team, because I'm not helping the team at all," he said. "But for me, I never give up. I'm going to find a way to get back and just keep working."
Nick Kosmider is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.