Tigers plan to pull back on the reins as Jimenez nears career-highs in innings, outings

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez pitched 53.2 innings with Lakeland, Erie and Toledo in 2016.

Detroit — The question presented to manager Ron Gardenhire before the game Saturday was whether there’d been any discussion about having Joe Jimenez and Shane Greene swap roles? Not because of any performance issues with Greene, but for the sake of Jimenez’s development.

The answer was a flat, no. But the reasoning may surprise you.

“We aren’t going to disrespect Greeney, by any means, by doing anything like that,” Gardenhire said, giving what was, in effect, the secondary reason for not swapping roles. “But look at (Friday night), the eighth inning was the high leverage situation more so than the ninth.”

Jimenez coasted through the heart of the Twins order in the eighth inning of a 5-2 game Friday.

“That’s basically a save situation right there, too,” Gardenhire said. “It just wasn’t the end of the game. I don’t really worry about (Jimenez). He’s going to go in there and wing it. That progress will happen. It’s already happened. He’s already been in the All-Star Game. We all know where he’s at.”

The real discussion that Gardenhire, pitching coach Rick Anderson and general manager Al Avila have had in recent days has been about how to curtail Jimenez’s workload.

“Our goal now is to limit usage,” Gardenhire said. “He’s already got to as high (in terms of appearances and innings pitched) as he’s ever done in his life. Our thoughts are about backing him off, not pushing him forward.”

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Entering Saturday, Jimenez had appeared in 53 games and worked 49⅓ innings. Last year, between the Detroit, Toledo and Lakeland, he made 51 appearances and pitched 45 innings.

The most he’s ever pitched in a season was in 2016, when between Lakeland, Erie and Toledo, he pitched 53⅔ innings in 55 games.

“We don’t want to put that much pressure on him,” Gardenhire said. “This is the first time he’s ever been where he is now.”

Although he looked sharp last night, Jimenez has not been nearly as effective as he’d been before the break. Since July, he’s allowed six runs in 10⅓ innings. Already, the Tigers have not warmed him up twice without bringing him into a game. If he warms once and isn’t used, then he won't get back up.

The Tigers plan to taper his game workload, as well.

“We’re still going to use him,” Gardenhire said. “He wants to pitch. So we’re not going to shut him down or that type of thing. But we are going to try and be careful with him.”