Tigers' Joe Jimenez pitches himself back into late-inning set-up role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Philadelphia — Joe Jimenez’s hiatus from the primary set-up role in the Tigers’ bullpen is apparently over.

“We let him have a little break,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But we told him, ‘You’re it. You are the guy,’ and he responded.”

Gardenhire called on Jimenez to protect a two-run lead in the eighth inning Tuesday, with the heart of the Phillies batting order coming up. Jimenez responded in nine pitches — getting Jean Segura to ground out, then striking out Bryce Harper with a 97.5-mph fastball and Rhys Hoskins on three straight sliders.

Joe Jimenez struck out two in the Tigers' 3-1 win over the Phillies on Monday.

“I think yesterday was the best I’ve felt this season,” Jimenez said. “Everything came together. Now I am just trying to stay there.”

Grayson Greiner, who caught Jimenez Tuesday, said it looked like Jimenez was pitching angry. Jimenez smiled at that but didn’t really agree. More like he was pitching confidently.

“I would say over the last couple of outings something clicked,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good lately. Even in Chicago, when I gave up the walk-off (to Tim Anderson) or the three bloopers in Boston — that happens.

“But for me, those were good outings, both of them. The results sucked, you take the good from it.”

Jimenez over a three-week stretch last month gave up seven hits, four walks and two runs in 4⅓ innings. His fastball velocity dipped to 94 mph and his command was sketchy.

He looked tentative, feeling for his pitches instead of trusting them.

In his last three outings, though, the Anderson home run was the only damage. He struck out seven without issuing a walk in three innings. He was pitching with conviction. 

“I really don’t feel like I changed something,” he said. “At the start of the year I was turning too much in the delivery, like I was doing in 2017. I sat down with Rick (Anderson, pitching coach) and watched some video.

“It’s just trying to make it simple, like it was last year.”

Losing the eighth-inning role stung him. Asked how he reacted, whether it motivated him or made him angry, he said both.

“Because you know you have the stuff to be there,” he said. “And when the game gets to that situation and you’re not in there, you feel kind of bad. I understand completely what Gardy was trying to do. Obviously, if I wasn’t doing good, he needs a guy that can get outs.

“And I wasn’t that guy at that time.”

He was that guy Tuesday, and it is vital for the depth of the Tigers bullpen that he holds on to that eighth-inning role. Instead of mixing-and-matching Victor Alcantara, Buck Farmer and Daniel Stumpf in the seventh and eighth, Gardenhire can use those arms, plus Drew VerHagen, to build a bridge to Jimenez and Shane Greene.

“It’s never been about health or anything with him,” Gardenhire said. “Just sometimes you go through it. You throw a ball up there that’s a good pitch and they whack it. It happens. You just keep pitching him.”

Patience withering?

Speaking of staying with guys, Gardenhire continues to write center fielder JaCoby Jones’ name into the lineup every day despite his current 3-for-33 skid with 16 strikeouts.

“I’m just letting him play,” Gardenhire said in Boston last week. “Hopefully, he will come out of it. He’s working every day. He’s moved back off the plate some because he was jamming himself. But he’s got to figure it out.”

Jones went into the game Wednesday hitting .137 in 15 games since coming off the injured list. His strikeout rate is 33.9 percent, his chase rate is 40 percent and he’s walked just twice in 56 plate appearances.

At this early point in the year, it looks like he’s regressing at the plate.

“JaCoby’s got all the information he needs,” Gardenhire said. “He just has to make some adjustments. He’s hitting it in the air an awful lot, and he’s working on it. Nobody is fighting it more than he is. He’s so valuable in the outfield — he’s just got to start using his speed, his legs, a little more.”

Better pitch selection, more patience at the plate, adding the bunt to his arsenal — these have all been recommended.

“He’s a work in progress,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t put pressure on kids, they put pressure on themselves. He’s fighting it a little bit right now, but he so valuable out there (outfield).”

Around the horn

An MRI on the ailing left shoulder of second baseman Josh Harrison came back negative. “Bursitis and some swelling,” Gardenhire said. “No tears, which is good.” Harrison, who was placed on the injured list Tuesday, has been taking anti-inflammatory medication. Gardenhire said he will likely also get a cortisone shot. He is expected to be ready after the 10-day IR stint.

…The Tigers appear to have reached an organizational decision on left-hander Blaine Hardy. As Gardenhire said, he will remain in the bullpen when he comes off the injured list. There had been talk of him stretching out and filling in as a starter. “Sounds like that’s not going to happen,” Gardenhire said. “They don’t believe he can build up the arm strength with the problems in his arm.”

... Starting pitcher Tyson Ross, who is on paternity leave, spent Tuesday night with his wife in labor. As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, the baby had not arrived.


Twitter: @cmccosky