Arlington, Texas — He didn’t think it would be him.
Looking at it from the outside, it seemed a no-brainer that Joe Jimenez would ascend to the Tigers' closer role when Shane Greene was finally traded on Wednesday. Manager Ron Gardenhire certainly wasted no time in announcing the move.
But Jimenez was taking nothing for granted.
“To be honest, I didn’t know that I would be it,” he said. “Just because there are some guys doing better than me. Maybe they thought someone else could do the job better than me. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Granted, it’s not been a smooth ride for Jimenez. Since being selected to the All-Star team last year, he’s been wildly inconsistent. He had a 7.78 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP after the break last year. He got off to a slow start this season and was removed from the eighth-inning set-up role twice.
Overall, he’s given up a career-high nine home runs in 42 innings. The percentage of pitches hitters have barreled up against him (11.9) is in the bottom-four percentile in baseball.
“It’s just part of the growing process,” Gardenhire said. “There’s a lot of really good hitters out there, and when you center the baseball that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t care how hard you throw, when you center the ball like he does when he misfires, it’s going to get hit.”
Jimenez is trending in a good direction. He has allowed two hits and one run in his last seven outings, with eight strikeouts. But one of the two hits came in the eighth inning last Sunday in Seattle — a two-out, two-strike game-tying home run by Domingo Santana.
“He got two quick outs and got a couple of strikes on him and just didn’t put him away,” Gardenhire said. “He put a fastball right over the middle. The catcher wanted the ball chest high or higher and he put it over the middle.
“Those are the things in the closer role he will have to learn. It’s better to miss wildly than miss over the plate.”
But the Tigers have been grooming Jimenez for this role since they signed him out of Puerto Rico in 2013. He doesn’t throw 98 mph any more. His fastball is still plenty firm, 95 mph on average, and he’s vastly improved his slider.
Opponents are hitting .198 against his heater and .175 against his slider. His stuff is still worthy of the role. He just needs to sharpen his focus and command.
“We’re going step by step with him,” Gardenhire said. “We’re going to give him the ball in the ninth inning and see what happens. I think it’s a natural progression for him to step into that role. He’s got the velocity and he’s got the pitches.
“We have to see if he can do it. It’s on his shoulders now.”
Asked what his reaction was when he was told he’d be the closer, Jimenez shrugged.
“Nothing,” he said. “Obviously throwing the eighth inning I was basically doing the same thing. Now I am just doing it in a different inning. Same thing, different inning.”
He’s closed enough games between the minor leagues and the big leagues to know that while, technically, that is true, getting the final three outs of a game is a different animal.
“That does help a lot, that coming from the minor leagues I closed out a lot of games,” he said. “And I had a couple of opportunities last year (three saves). I think that was a good learning experience for me. Coming from the minor leagues, this is what I learned to do and obviously I like it a lot.
“They are giving me this chance, so I am going to take advantage of it and try to do the job every day.”
Gardenhire said the seventh and eighth innings will be a committee effort. Trevor Rosenthal and Buck Farmer, both have been pitching well of late, will be the primary set-up men. Left-handers Blaine Hardy and Gregory Soto will also be used.
“We’ve got people we can throw out there,” Gardenhire said. “We’ll just ad-lib our way through it.”
Rosenthal, who has been using an improved slider along with his upper-90s fastball, has allowed two runs with eight strikeouts and five walks in his last five innings. Farmer, who was named the Tigers’ pitcher of the month for July, has pitched 8.2 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts going back to July 12.
Tigers at Rangers
First pitch: 3:05 p.m. Sunday, Globe Life Park, Arlington, Texas
►RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-8, 7.23), Tigers: He finally nixed the goose egg in the win column, snapping a streak of 17 starts without a win against the Angels. His fastball command and his slider were as good as they’d been since he came off the injured list.
►RHP Pedro Payano (1-0, 3.18), Rangers: This will be his second big-league start and fourth appearance. He features a 94-mph four-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve. In his first start, he allowed three runs, six hits and four walks in 5.1 innings against Oakland.