Detroit – You don’t want to diminish anything about this for Tigers interim closer Joe Jimenez.
After enduring the worst season of his professional career in 2017, after spending the entire winter in Lakeland working to recondition his body, refresh his mind and revitalize his status in the organization, Jimenez on Sunday was selected to represent the Tigers in the 2018 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.
“I was lost,” Jimenez said, talking about when he got the news Sunday before the Tigers' 3-0 loss to the Rangers. “(Manager Ron Gardenhire) called me into the office and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Al Avila (general manager) was the one who told me and I started crying right away.
“After last year and after everything I have done in my life, this is my biggest accomplishment in baseball. It’s just great to represent the Tigers and all of my teammates. I am proud of what’s going on right now.”
After being tagged for 28 earned runs in 19 innings at the big-league level last year, Jimenez is 4-1 with a 2.85 ERA, with three saves and 46 strikeouts in 41 innings. He was the eighth-inning setup man until Shane Greene went on the disabled list.
He is completely deserving of an All-Star selection. Perhaps, though, not as much as right fielder Nick Castellanos, who was left off the American League squad.
“I think we all kind of thought where this was going to go with Nick,” Gardenhire said. “It’s disappointing for myself and a lot of people here. Not that Joe is going – we’re really excited Joe is going. It’s wonderful. He’s had a really great first half.
“But when you start looking at it, our best player, the guy who probably most deserves it, that would be Nicky. I get a little frustrated at that part of it. I don’t see why we can’t have two guys, to tell you the truth.”
It was most likely a numbers thing. The American League had a lot of All-Star worthy outfielders and not as many pitchers.
“It is what it is,” Castellanos shrugged. “I’m happy for Joe. It’s not about me not making it, it’s about Joe making it.”
Gardenhire, by the way, didn’t completely buy the roster numbers argument.
“Still, Nick’s numbers are as good as some of the other (outfielders),” he said. “If you are looking for the best player from one team, Nicky is our best player.”
Gardenhire and Avila pulled Castellanos into the office to tell him, too. And that meant something to Castellanos.
“I think my teammates and coaches are more frustrated about this than I am,” he said. “I think in itself, for my coaches and teammates to show me that kind of support – I don’t really need to go to Washington, D.C., to feel good about my first half.”
There is still an outside chance Castellanos ends up on the squad as an injury replacement.
"You never know," Gardenhire said. "He might get in anyway. We still have some games left before the All-Star break."
Jimenez shared a tearful phone conversation with his family.
“They know better than anybody all that I have been through,” he said. “I was talking to (first base coach) Ramon Santiago and he told me, ‘All the hard work paid off. Now you’ve got to continue and hopefully end the season strong.’”
Pitcher Michael Fulmer, who was the Tigers’ lone representative in last year’s All-Star Game, gave Jimenez a quick tutorial in how to enjoy the week.
“Fantastic,” Fulmer said. “He deserves every bit of it. I told him to go to all the events, a lot of parties, but make sure you are dialed in to pitch in the All-Star Game. I didn’t get to pitch last year, but I told him to have fun, hang out with the players and build relationships.”
Gardenhire doesn’t think the moment will be too big for Jimenez.
“He seems to be a pretty calm enough kid,” he said. “But it will be really exciting for all Tigers fans if he gets into the ball game and gets on that mound with our uniform on. I hope he gets that opportunity. It will be a big deal for everybody.
“I just hope, too, that he relaxes and doesn’t try to kill himself throwing 8,000 miles per hour.”
Jimenez said will have the flag of Puerto Rico on his chest – proudly representing both his homeland and his baseball team.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’ll just be great to be there, representing the Tigers with all the history that is here, being there wearing a Tigers jersey – it’s just great. I don’t have the words.”