Tigers bullpen bosses Greene, Jimenez have bond formed by strife, empathy

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Shane Greene

Minneapolis – Looking at it from afar, they make for an odd couple.

Tigers closer Shane Greene is a free-spirited 30-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla. Eighth-inning set-up man Joe Jimenez is a quiet, serious 24-year-old from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Yeah, their personalities are definitely different,” said Blaine Hardy, who has become the elder statesman of the bullpen. “But what’s the old saying, ‘Opposites attract.’ It’s kind of a weird saying to use in this circumstance – because it’s a bullpen and not a relationship.

“But, I guess in a different way it is a relationship.”

It’s a relationship that forms not only the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen, but also its leadership council, mentorship program and support system.

You can see it before and after just about every game. Greene and Jimenez, who occupy neighboring lockers inside the clubhouse at Comerica Park, are engaged in conversation – sometimes intense, sometimes light-hearted – with another pitcher.

“It’s awesome,” said rookie Reed Garrett, who has leaned heavily on Greene to get through his first couple months in the big leagues. “That’s a guy that hasn’t had everything handed to him. He’s had to grind his way and compete his way to be where he’s at.

“The guy knows the struggles and he knows what it means to grind and get through it. It’s priceless, really. You can’t put a measure on it because guys like that help everybody.”

Disparate personalities, different primary languages and cultures are irrelevant to the bond that exists between Greene and Jimenez. It’s a bond forged by mutual respect, mutual empathy for the demands of their respective roles, and reinforced by each player’s failure in the game.

“We have an understanding of how important both of our jobs are,” Greene said. “If we get past the seventh inning with the lead, we’re pretty much expected to win that game. So, if we do our job, it makes the game seven innings.

“We play a huge role in this team’s success and we want to win and we want to win now. And at the same time, nobody knows what it feels like to lose a game when everybody else is expecting us to win.”

Greene and Jimenez certainly do. The closer and set-up man are like the baseball version of field goal kickers. It’s do-or-die just about every time they step on the mound.

“We understand that and we know that,” Greene said. “It’s just easier to deal with when you don’t feel like you are alone.”

Jimenez blew through the Tigers' minor-league system with barely a scratch. In 89 innings in High-A and Triple-A, he allowed just eight earned runs. Then he came up to the Tigers in 2017 and got his butt kicked – 26 earned runs in 19 innings.

Guess who was the first guy to reach out to him.

Joe Jimenez

“When he first came up and had his struggles, at that time nobody was really reaching out to try and help him,” Greene said. “For whatever reason, he came to me. That’s how it started. Then last year he had a great season and I had my struggles.

“And he was there for me. That’s the foundation of this, more than anything. It’s an understanding that we are a huge part of this team if we want to win and win now.”

Think about it, though, Jimenez has been billed as the Tigers’ closer of the future. Greene, quite possibly, could be a trade chip here in a couple of months. You’d think the competition for the closer’s role could drive a wedge in their relationship.

“It is not like a competition between he and I,” Jimenez said. “It’s much more like a friendship and helping each other out trying to get better. Since I got here in 2017, he was one of the guys who has helped me to get through all my struggles.

“I mean, we get along really good. There is no competition between us that’s bad.”

Greene agreed.

“I think at some point in his career, he will have the ninth inning,” Greene said. “Whether or not I’m on the same team when he’s doing it, time will tell.”

The way it typically breaks down, you will see Jimenez huddled up with Victor Alcantara, Eduardo Jimenez and Jose Fernandez (when they were up), while Greene will be holding court with Buck Farmer, Garrett, Zac Reininger and Drew VerHagen (when they were up).

But their counsel crosses over the language barrier.

“The young kids, the Latin guys who don’t speak the best English, when they have questions, Joe will come to me for them,” Greene said. “Or if I have something, I go to Joe. You know, whether he knows it or not, Joe is a leader in this clubhouse, too.

“He may not see it that way, but he is.”

What Greene and Jimenez have fostered, possibly unwittingly, organically, is a very close, communal atmosphere for a group of players who operate often in high-stress, low-security jobs.

“Joe and Shane are the faces of our bullpen because of the roles they play,” Hardy said. “But I think we’ve come to realize everyone has a say with respect to helping each other out. If someone sees something, we aren’t afraid to say, ‘Hey look, I noticed this, just wanted to let you know.’

“I think that goes a long way. Everybody brings something to the table and that is something that’s going to help us in the long run.”

On deck: Astros

Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park

First pitch: Monday-Wednesday – 7:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Monday-Wednesday – FSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Monday – RHP Brad Peacock (3-2, 4.30) vs. Matthew Boyd (4-2, 2.86); Tuesday – LHP Wade Miley (3-2, 3.18) vs. LHP Ryan Carpenter (0-1,10.80); Wednesday – RHP Justin Verlander (6-1, 2.51) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-5, 6.11) –  tentative.

Peacock, Astros: You might not immediately recognize him; he’s working out of a windup for the first time since 2016. His last start was a beauty, he fanned 12 Royals over seven innings.

Boyd, Tigers: He’s pushing for an All-Star berth. Seven straight quality starts. He’s yet to allow more than three earned runs in a game. He ranks fourth in the American League in strikeouts (63) and WHIP (0.93).

Twitter @cmccosky