Kansas City, Mo. — On Tuesday night, Joe Jimenez was conspicuous by his absence, as the Tigers' bullpen blew a 2-0 lead in the seventh and eighth innings.
On Wednesday, his presence was conspicuous, pitching a clean eighth inning, getting the ball to Shane Greene who closed out the Tigers 3-2 win over the Royals.
"I told Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) last night, this is Joe's job," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Just go back to that."
Gardenhire, for the second time this season, took Jimenez out of the eighth-inning set-up role after he'd allowed five earned runs in three outings covering two innings. But that ended up leaving a void at the back end of the bullpen.
"I'm tired of messing around with this thing," Gardenhire said. "We're trying to find the right situations, well, we never have those situations. Just let Joe take the ball in the eighth inning and go shut it down."
Jimenez needed just seven pitches to blow through the eighth inning. A first-pitch slider and then six mid-90s heaters.
"He used his fastball up in the zone where it has so much life," catcher John Hicks said. "He's got a high spin rate so he can pitch at the top of the zone and guys can't get to it. He showed a good slider on the first pitch of the inning, showed he had that pitch and after that he just attacked with that fastball and he hit his spots."
Jimenez said the only adjustments he made were mental.
"It's all positive," he said. "Nothing mechanical. Just the same thing, keep working. I just had it today. It's just getting that confidence again. It wasn't there the last few outings."
Neither Gardenhire nor Anderson forewarned him about getting his role back. But when he was told about it after the game, he said, "I'll take it and try to do my job again."
The start of the game Wednesday was delayed 24 minutes because of an expected pop-up storm that never actually popped up.
In that regard, it was kind of like the Tigers offense, which for the second straight night didn’t hit with any force. But fortunately for them, the home team was in a giving mood. The Tigers took advantage of two eighth-inning walks and a misplayed ground ball to score the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.
JaCoby Jones, inserted into the leadoff spot by manager Ron Gardenhire, walked and scored twice in this game. Reliever Jake Diekman walked him to start the eighth. Christin Stewart followed with a routine ground ball (89-mph exit velocity) that went through the legs of first baseman Ryan O'Hearn.
It was scored a double. Diekman walked Nick Castellanos to load the bases. After getting a called third strike on Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Dixon got Jones home with a sacrifice fly to right field.
"That was a good at-bat," Gardenhire said. "He got two strikes, but he stayed on it, stayed behind the ball and hit it out to right field."
Jones was inserted into the lead-off spot replacing Niko Goodrum, who was out with a right knee bruise. Jones was hitting over .400 since May 24 and Gardenhire was a little concerned that moving him up with mess with his hot streak.
"I mean, when you are confident and comfortable, doesn't matter if you are hitting first or ninth, whatever," Jones said. "At the beginning of the game he just said, 'Do what you been doing and you get an extra at-bat.'
"I said, perfect."
It was a laborious night for Tigers lefty starter Daniel Norris.
It took him 60 pitches to get through three innings. He was at 91 and done after five. He only had one clean innings, when he struck out the side in the fourth. He hit a batter and walked two. The Royals stole four bases off him, third base twice.
He faced 11 hitters with runners in scoring position.
But, to his credit, only two of those runners scored.
"I felt pretty good, for the most part," Norris said. "I just lost a couple of hitters there. The mistakes I made to (Jorge Soler) -- I get ahead of him with two nasty pitches and then I try to make it nastier.
"And the count goes from 0-2 to 1-2 to 2-2. And then I end up babying a pitch and not throwing it with the same conviction I did to get strike one."
Soler, who is hitting .400 against the Tigers this season, knocked in both of the Royals runs. His two-out double in the third inning scored Whit Merrifield, who also doubled. Then in the fifth, after the Tigers had taken a 2-1 lead, Soler came to bat with two outs and a runner at second.
With first base open, and rookie Kelvin Gutierrez on deck, Norris challenged Soler. And lost. Soler whacked a 2-2 slider into center field, RBI single.
Gardenhire was glad Norris challenged Soler.
"I'm not going to start walking people that early in the ballgame," he said. "He's got to make pitches. That was a situation where he just made a bad pitch. You start walking people in those situations, you put more runners on base, you just open yourself up to a big inning."
Norris struck out six in his five innings. Lefty reliever Nick Ramirez pitched two scoreless innings to earn his third win since being called up from Toledo last month.
"Danny did a nice job," Gardenhire said. "I think he got a little excited a couple of times. He's got to learn to calm down in those situations. But other than that, he gave us an opportunity.
"He battled through it and that was the key. He got through those innings."
As it so often happens in baseball, the game came down to a confrontation between Greene and Soler with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Adalberto Mondesi's infield single had extended the inning.
Greene fell behind 3-1, but like Norris did, he challenged him. Soler took a cutter to make it 3-2, then lifted a slider to center field for the final out. The 20th save of the season for Greene.
Tigers at Royals
First pitch: 8:05 p.m. Thursday, TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
LHP Matthew Boyd (5-4, 3.08), Tigers: He’s allowed three earned runs or less in 13 of his 14 starts. He leads the AL with a 7-1 strikeout-to-walk rate and 1.6 walks per nine. He is third in WAR (3.3), fifth in strikeouts (105) and ninth in ERA (3.08). All-Star worthy.
RHP Homer Bailey (4-6, 5.90), Royals: He beat the Tigers back on May 4 at Comerica, allowing two runs over six innings. But he didn’t get past the fifth inning in his next five starts before going six again against the White Sox his last time out. His splitter is his out pitch, getting a 41 percent whiff rate with it.