Chicago – Let’s try to put Detroit Tigers right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez’s outing on Thursday in context.
He sat for more than three hours in the snow and cold before being summoned to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning – after the Tigers had dramatically and suddenly rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to tie a game they would eventually win in the 10th, 9-7.
It was the fourth appearance for the 23-year-old, three of them high-leverage situations. They don’t come much more pressure-packed than this one. Due up for the White Sox was the heart of their order – Jose Abreu, Matt Davidson and Yolmer Sanchez.
“Obviously, in your mind you know they are there and you know who they are,” Jimenez said afterward. “But I always try not to look at their face. I just concentrate on Mac’s (catcher James McCann) mitt and try to throw it wherever he wants it.”
Also best if Jimenez didn’t think back on his past experiences against these hitters, or any White Sox hitters. They beat him up pretty good last season – nine hits in 20 at-bats, seven runs, two doubles and two home runs. The last time he pitched the ninth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox walked him off with a run in the bottom of the ninth – a game-winning single by Sanchez.
Abreu had gotten a hit in his only previous at-bat against Jimenez and Davidson had banged a double and a home run off him.
“Last year, I would say, yeah, they got me,” Jimenez said. “But I did my adjustments from last year to now.”
It would take him 13 pitches to dispatch the heart of the White Sox’s order. Abreu flew out to center field, a ball struck at 98 mph – the hardest ball hit off Jimenez in the inning. Davidson grounded out to first and Sanchez grounded out to second.
Thirteen pitches, four fastballs averaging 95 mph, five sliders at 84 mph and four change-ups at 88 mph. Only one swing-and miss, but average exit velocity on the three balls put in play (per Baseball Savant) was 74.4 mph.
“I just wanted to make my pitches,” he said. “If they miss it, it’s all good.”
This is a guy who last season was battered – 28 runs, 31 hits, four home runs in 19 innings. And now, this season thus far, he’s been a late-innings bridge to closer Shane Greene.
It’s a small sample-size, for sure (3.1 innings, one hit, one run). But he pitched in the ninth and 10th innings on Opening Day, he pitched the ninth inning of a two-run loss on April 1, he retired two batters in the Tigers win on Monday and, on Thursday, earned his first big-league win with a clean ninth inning.
“That’s what Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio) and I talked about – guys we want to see in those situations,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We believe he is going to be able to handle it. He can spin the ball and he has a nice fastball.
“Like I said, we’re going to figure it out, and we’re going to let these guys tell us. We’re going to put them in situations and see what happens.”
Jimenez understands what that means. Winning that trust is why he spent nearly the entire offseason in Lakeland, at the TigerTown facility, working on his fitness, reshaping his physique as well as his slider.
He was a dominant pitcher at every level of the minor leagues. Last season was his first taste of failure. It was the best learning tool, the best motivator, he’d ever experienced.
“Thanks to Gardy and thanks to Bosio for putting me in those situations and trusting me to do my job,” Jimenez said. “But I am going to go out there, no matter what the situation is, and try to get outs.
“If they trust me to go out there, in any situation, I am fine with it. I just want to give the team a chance to win and I am going to do that no matter what the situation is.”
Since Buck Farmer was tagged for five runs in the fifth inning of the second game of the doubleheader on Sunday, the Tigers’ bullpen has allowed one run and five hits in 15 innings.
The turnaround came after a meeting with Bosio and Gardenhire following the doubleheader loss against the Pirates. Bosio came in armed with data showing the spike in opposing batting averages from 0-1 and 1-1 counts to 1-0 and 2-1 counts.
It’s more than 100 points higher.
“Relievers can’t pitch from behind,” Gardenhire said. “Unless you are a power guy, you have to really pound the strike zone and make the hitters panic.”
Until Thursday – when relievers walked four in the snow and chill – the relievers had walked just one batter in 10 innings.
Miguel Cabrera was confident he would be in the lineup when the Tigers-White Sox series resumes on Saturday.
His left hip flexor tightened up on him after he slipped and fell hard rounding first base after a first-inning single Thursday. He was removed from the game more as a precaution.
“I’m feeling better right now,” Cabrera said after the Tigers’ 9-7, 10-inning win. “I jammed my hip a little bit on the ground. It started to feel tight when I went out on the field, so I talked to the trainer and to Skip and decided to come out of the game.
“I don’t want to lose any games.”
Cabrera was expected to get treatment on the hip Friday.
Right-handed reliever Johnny Barbato was activated off the disabled list Thursday and optioned to Triple-A Toledo.
… Left-hander Daniel Norris, who pitched 3.1 strong innings in relief Thursday (one hit, one run, six strikeouts) is expected to be optioned to Toledo before the game on Sunday. Right-hander Mike Fiers is eligible to come off the disabled list.
… Victor Martinez continues his assault on White Sox pitching. With three hits on Thursday, he’s hitting .326 against the White Sox over his career, with 40 doubles, 31 homers and 121 RBIs. His 241 hits and 121 RBIs are the most by an active player against the White Sox.
TIGERS AT WHITE SOX
First pitch: 2:10 p.m., Saturday
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
RHP Lucas Giolito, White Sox: He shut out the Tigers on three hits over seven innings in a start last season. He pitches off his 92-mph fastball, which he works effectively up in the zone inducing a lot of fly ball outs. He counters with a sinker (92) and a slider (82).
RHP Michael Fulmer, Tigers: It’ll be six days between starts for Fulmer, extra rest he’s not particularly fond of. In his first start against the Pirates, facing five left-handed batters, 42 of his 90 pitches were two-seam sinkers. He threw 18 sliders and 15 change-ups. The White Sox are more right-handed heavy, so the slider may be featured more prominently.