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Joe Jimenez needs more polish, won’t join Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Joe Jimenez

Chicago – Students of the Tigers farm system, or even casual followers, have heard so much about Joe Jimenez in 2016 it was natural to imagine him part of the Tigers’ cast when rosters inflated Sept. 1.

But it was never likely a right-handed pitcher, only 21, would be added to the 40-man roster and unveiled for early cameos at Comerica Park or other big-league venues during the Tigers’ September playoff chase.

And, in fact, it won’t happen. Jimenez simply is yet too green in the Tigers’ eyes, no matter that his 2016 numbers have been furious: 1.54 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 54 games, with only 25 hits allowed in 54.2 innings, spiced by 78 strikeouts and 16 unintentional walks.

Jimenez will wrap up his 2016 season this week at Triple A Toledo and take a long offseason rest, interrupted only by the Sept. 18-Oct. 15 Instructional Camp at Tigers minor-league headquarters in Lakeland, Fla.

The issue in not bringing him to Detroit is simple: His secondary pitches don’t yet match his high-90s fastball in putting away hitters.

“He’s like a lot of younger pitchers that have real good fastballs,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers’ vice president of player development. “He’s been able to use his fastball a majority of the time to get his outs, and in Joe’s case to dominate, but we think getting him some additional work focusing on (secondary pitches) will be the key.”

But that won’t be happening soon. Not in a competitive realm.

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Jimenez pitched in 40 games during the 2015 season and then put in a Winter Ball stint in Puerto Rico during late fall and early winter. He reported to Lakeland a few weeks later for spring camp. The Tigers have been sensitive to workloads for a young pitcher, even if Jimenez is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and showed little wear and tear as he wraps up his 2016 calendar.

He’ll be brought to spring camp with a chance, officially, to make the team in 2017. But unless his slider turns more deadly in the interim, it’s likely Jimenez will begin next year where he finished 2016: at Toledo.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was in synch Monday with Littlefield when Ausmus talked about Jimenez a few hours before the Tigers and White Sox were to meet  (4:10 p.m. ET) in the first of three games at U.S. Cellular Field.

“Let’s remember he started the season at A ball,” said Ausmus, referring to Jimenez’s three-stage farm tour in 2016 that began at Single A Lakeland, moved to Double A Erie, and then to Toledo. “You can stunt a player’s development by bringing him to the big leagues too early.

“When he gets here we want him to be ready. It’s very difficult to find a major-league pitcher who throws just a fastball.”

Littlefield and Ausmus say Jimenez’s change-up is probably ahead of his slider as two secondary pitches are measured. But each needs to get sharper, Littlefield said, with a past weekend’s conversation firming thoughts there.

“I was in Columbus,” he said, speaking of the Mud Hens-Clippers series, “talking with Mike Pelfrey on his rehab assignment. And we were talking about Joe and Mike told me a story when he was a minor-league pitcher and everyone was saying: ‘Throw your change-up, throw your change-up.’

“I didn’t need it, and I knew, competitively, I could get them out with the fastball,” Littlefield said, quoting Pelfrey. “He said it wasn’t until I got into upper levels that I found guys could stay on the fastball. It was almost like hitters had to tell him that.

“I think in Joe’s case,” Littlefield said, “it’s very similar. He didn’t face a great challenge until he got to Triple A. Then, he made adjustments and threw more sliders.”

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Tigers thoughts were on matters other than Jimenez and roster additions as they showed up Monday at U.S. Cellular.

They were hoping to push the throttle on a late-summer surge that has seen their playoff possibilities zoom.

The Tigers made one roster move Monday when Pelfrey was freed from the disabled list and moved at least temporarily into the Tigers bullpen.

Ausmus was waiting on batting practice and reports from two banged-up Tigers, Ian Kinsler (finger) and Cameron Maybin (thumb) before he finalized Monday’s batting order.

Maybin has missed much of the past week with a thumb jammed on a head-first slide into second base. Kinsler had a ground ball dig into his finger during Sunday’s victory over the Royals.

Justin Verlander and Chris Sale were to renew Monday last week’s pitcher’s duel at Comerica Park, which ended in a Tigers walk-off victory.