Detroit — It was like Eduardo Jimenez kept waiting for the punch line, like he was waiting to be let in on the joke.
“I still don’t believe it,” the 24-year-old Venezuelan said through interpreter Carlos Guillen. “After I received the phone call, I didn’t believe it. It’s just a dream. I still do not believe that I am finally here. Since I was a kid I dreamed about this.
“And now I am in Detroit, having next to me all these major leaguers with all their experience — it is something I cannot believe yet.”
“He’s got a good arm, good fastball and his slider has good tilt to it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’ve been looking at his heat charts here; he needs to locate better. A lot of breaking balls in the middle of the plate.
“But the reports were that he’s been throwing it good. We don’t have many people available right now, so, he wins. Now we hope he comes in and throws it over the plate.”
In terms of baseball experience, Jimenez is relatively raw. He spent 2017 and 2018 at High-A Lakeland, then, after an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League, pitched just two games at Double-A Erie before being promoted to Triple-A Toledo.
Eight games, 10 innings (and 10 strikeouts) later — just 13 innings of experience above A-ball — he’s driving north on Interstate 75 toward Detroit wondering if somebody is performing a cruel and elaborate prank on him.
“My mom was with a couple of friends at home and when I gave her a call; she didn’t believe it either,” he said. “Then she started screaming and yelling around the house. Just so happy, so full of joy.”
To fully understand what he and his mother and friends are feeling, you have to know this is the culmination of a long, arduous, eight-year journey. No, it goes back years before that. Back when he was three and his grandfather taught him to throw a baseball in Venezuela and instilled the dream of pitching in America, in the major leagues.
Raised by his mother and grandfather, he left home at 16, after being signed, to live at the Tigers Baseball Academy. After pitching two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League, just as he was about to be promoted to rookie ball, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery.
He restarted his climb in 2015, then in 2017, while pitching for Low-A West Michigan, and just starting to put himself on the organization’s radar, he was suspended 30 games for his role in a brawl. He picked up a ball and hurled it at a group of opposing players, hitting one player in the leg.
Then there were the two stalled years at Lakeland where it would have been easy for the Tigers to drop him off the 40-man roster. But there was something about him — a competitiveness, a toughness perhaps.
He not only stuck on the 40-man roster, he was invited to big league camp two springs in a row.
“You know, what I lived before I started playing baseball has helped me to be here,” he said. “It gave me strength to keep battling and to do my best.”
Jimenez credited several of his pitching coaches — Mark Johnson (Erie), A.J. Sager (roving instructor), Santiago Garrido (Erie) and Juan Nieves (Toledo) — for refining his sinker, slider, change-up repertoire.
“It’s been the same thing — hard work,” Jimenez said. “Since spring training, I’ve been working really hard. When I was in Double-A, I had some mechanical issues and I worked through those and got promoted to Triple-A.
“I just keep working and now I am profiting from that, being called up to the major leagues.”
A Tigers' rally ended abruptly in the fifth inning, thanks to a little trickery from Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield.
With runners at first and second, and a run in already, Niko Goodrum hit a soft, low liner at Merrifield. The infield-fly rule was invoked by first-base umpire Marvin Hudson, though the signal came late, and Goodrum was out immediately.
Merrifield smartly let the ball drop and threw out Jeimer Candelario at third.
"I didn't see him signal," Candelario said. "But, you know, good thing it happens now, early in the season, and I can learn from it."
Gardenhire came out to argue, but it wasn't about the infield-fly rule call.
"I had two coaches yelling that they didn't tag Candy at third base, that he was safe," Gardenhire said. "So I went out there and asked, 'What do you got here?' I'm saying he didn't tag him and they told me to go look.
"I went back in and looked, he did tag him. My coaches were wrong. That was my beef. I just wanted everything to calm down. I made sure he called infield fly, because once he does it kills everything. But Candy didn't know that."
Around the horn
Blaine Hardy will begin his rehab assignment at High-A Lakeland this week. The Tigers versatile left-handed reliever is scheduled to pitch an inning on Tuesday and Thursday, then rejoin the club on Friday in Minnesota. Hardy has been on the injured list with a forearm strain since April 23.
... Jordan Zimmermann threw a baseball Sunday for the first time since he strained his elbow on April 26. He threw lightly from about 60 feet. “Now we wait and see how he does,” Gardenhire said. “The trainers have a plan in place.”
…Left-fielder Christin Stewart (quad) is 4 for 7 in two rehab games at High-A Lakeland. Gardenhire said the plan was for him to play five or six games down there before returning.
... Nick Castellanos ran his team-high hitting streak to nine games with a pair of singles. He's hit .351 over that stretch.