Staying the course: Jimenez says hard work only way to stop struggling

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Joe Jimenez

Kansas City, Mo. — Joe Jimenez was out early Tuesday, before the rains came, when the temperatures were climbing over 95 degrees and the humidity was thick, running around the warning track at Kauffman Stadium. He ran some more after his bullpen and side work at 4 p.m.

Whatever’s been going on with him since he made his first All-Star Game appearance, it’s not attributable to his work ethic. Or, apparently, his health.

“I am perfectly fine,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “I don’t feel any difference between now and the start of the season. I have had some rough outings, but I feel the same now as I did in April and May. It’s baseball. I am going to give up runs like everybody else.

“I just hope it turns around.”

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In terms of velocity on his fastball and movement on his slider and change-up, Jimenez looks like he did in the first half of the season, when he posted a 2.72 ERA, a 1.093 WHIP and an opponents’ slash-line of .216/.275/.327 and an OPS of .602.

The results since the All-Star break, though, have been vastly different: 10.45 ERA, 1.839 WHIP, .279/.392/.535 and an OPS of .927.

He’s given up runs in half of his eight August appearances.

“My position right now, nothing is going my way,” Jimenez said. “I just have to keep working hard and try to figure it all out quick, hopefully before the end of the season. I’ve been having some struggles and some rough outings, but I am perfectly fine — healthy.”

It has put the Tigers in a quandary. A couple of weeks ago, manager Ron Gardenhire talked about backing Jimenez off — not shutting him down, but easing back on his workload. Entering Tuesday, he had made 58 appearances and pitched 53 1/3 innings.

That was more than last season, when he worked 45 innings in 51 games between Toledo, Lakeland and Detroit. In 2016, when he made his meteoric climb through the system, he worked 53 2/3 innings in 55 games.

With his struggles, though, Gardenhire is more inclined to allow Jimenez to pitch his way through it.

“That’s the only way you can do it,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got to fight his way through it. He’s a big, strong kid. He can handle it.”

Jimenez never wanted his workload cut — struggles or no struggles.

“I have to go up from the innings last year and the year before,” he said. “If I stay at the same amount of innings, it’s going to be the same thing again (next year). So basically, I need to pitch more, no matter what.

“I don’t feel tired, nothing like that. I don’t feel like I am throwing too much. My innings have to go up, maybe like 10 percent or so.”

The biggest difference between his first half and second half — allowing for the fact that it’s just been 12 outings in the second half — is his command. He had a 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio in the first half, and 2-1 in the second.

He’s not working ahead in counts as often, either.

“I am walking more people right now,” he said. “But if you see my outings, it’s one or two pitches I miss and that makes it a bad outing. Instead of one-two-three, it’s a hit, a ground ball through, a bloop. But I do feel good and I am going to keep doing what I do now.”

Seven of the last nine runs he’s allowed have come against division rivals, teams that have seen him the most. But Jimenez is a power pitcher. It’s not like he can reinvent himself the third and fourth time he sees a team.

“Maybe they get me a little bit more,” he said. “But at the start of the season, I was pretty good against them. So, I need to get back to that. If I make good pitches, they’re not going to hit it. I’ve just been missing some spots.”

Jimenez isn’t beating himself up over this. His demeanor has not changed one bit.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the team, whether I do good or bad. Obviously, if I give up the lead like I did the last time, I feel bad. I want to win. But I don’t go home and think about my performance. I think about that we lost.” @cmccosky