Tigers continue to show faith in beleaguered reliever Joe Jimenez

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Seattle – At least he still has his sense of humor.

Tigers’ embattled reliever Joe Jimenez was asked how it felt to put up a zero against the Cubs on Sunday.

“Well, it’s been a while, you know,” he said, with a wry grin slicing his face.

It hadn’t been that long, actually. He closed out the 2020 season with 7.2 scoreless innings. And before Sunday he’d only pitched 1.2 innings. But as nice as the zero looked on the scoreboard, the zero in the walk column meant more.

Tigers relief pitcher Joe Jimenez.

“Obviously, things haven’t been good for me personally,” he said. “But I feel good and I feel comfortable and I’m healthy. That’s a good thing. I’m going to keep pushing and believing in me and try to help the team as much as I can.”

Manager AJ Hinch believes in Jimenez, too, and he gave him a kind of vote of confidence on Sunday when he optioned another reliever, Alex Lange, back to Triple-A Toledo to make room for catcher Wilson Ramos.

“This is an opportunity for him,” Hinch said. “We did send a different reliever down. I don’t know what (Jimenez’s) thoughts were or what he had been expecting, but we are providing him with an opportunity and we hope he takes it.”

Four games, 2.2 innings, in spring training is all Jimenez pitched before the Tigers stunned him by optioning him to Toledo. He’s only thrown 2.2 innings in four outings this spring after twice being called up.

“We feel like we haven’t given him a long enough look for him to settle in,” Hinch said. “We need to give him a chance to pitch.”

Especially in a middle-innings relief role, something very different to the set role he had when he was the Tigers’ closer.

Jimenez did not shy away from the topic of his struggles Monday. Yes, he was shocked and upset that he didn’t make the team out of spring training. No, he didn’t immediately handle it well when he got to the alternate site. Yes, his confidence plummeted.

“It never crossed my mind that I was going to be in this position,” he said. “They sent me down and I wasn’t happy, with myself, because I didn’t do a good in spring training. That got in my head a little but that’s in the past.

“I just have to keep doing the job. I know I have the stuff to be here.”

Jimenez was asked if he’s pitching with a chip on his shoulder now, after the disappointments.

“To be honest, it’s on me,” he said. “I’m trying to prove to myself that I am able to be here and pitch in the big leagues and be successful. That’s my thinking. I’m not mad. I’m not disappointed or anything. It’s something personal for me — to prove to myself that I am able to be here.”

If you watch, he’s tapping his glove when he starts his delivery. It’s the one mechanical change that’s stuck and been impactful.

“That keeps me in line to home plate,” he said. “Instead of opening early with my left arm. It’s working for me. I was opening up too early and now I am able to stay closed and stay on line to the plate.”

The fastball is sitting at 95 mph again. His slider has been inconsistent, but when it’s right, it’s a vastly improved pitch, with vertical bite instead of the sweeping action it used to have.

“Confidence, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “If I have the confidence again that I had before, I’m going to be a great pitcher, an awesome pitcher. I’m just trying to get that confidence back. I’m trying to put everything out there. I know it’s going to turn my way someday.”

Catcher Eric Haase, right, could be seeing some time at left field.

Three catchers

In sending down Lange to make room for Ramos’ return off the injured list, Hinch not only committed to a seven-man bullpen for a stretch, he also committed to using Eric Haase in left field, presumably against left-handed pitching.

Hinch used Ramos at designated hitter Monday, with Haase in left and Jake Rogers behind the plate.

He also started Jonathan Schoop at second base for the first time since April 15.

“I felt OK about going to 13-13 (split between pitchers and position players),” Hinch said. “We have an off-day on Thursday and our pitching was reset. We’ll go series by series with it, but I’d like to carry 13 as long as we can, until we need to think about it differently.”

If things go as he hopes, he will stay with the 13-13 split at least through the trip to Milwaukee and Chicago at the end of the month.

Tigers pitcher Alex Lange works in the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs on May 16.

Old Lange Syne

Having pitched three out of the last four days made Lange a little vulnerable to getting sent down. He wasn’t going to be available to pitch for a few days.

But it was his performance swings that cinched the deal.

“When we talked, I told him we have to get him executing pitch-by-pitch,” Hinch said. “He showed flashes of being very good at it and then the big swing would come back to haunt him.”

He gave up three runs in three different outings, including Saturday when he got tagged for a three-run homer by Matt Duffy.

“When he’s executing, he hasn’t been hit,” Hinch said. “But when he’s loose with his command, the big hit has haunted him. That’s what’s been reflected in his numbers. His good days are really good and his bad days are really, really bad.”

Hinch, though, said Lange could make it a short stay for himself in Toledo.

“He has to hold himself to a major league standard in the minor leagues,” he said. “If he does that, it could be a quick option and he could be back when the 10 days are up.”


Tigers at Mariners

►First pitch: 10:10 p.m.

►TV/Radio: BSD, 97.1

Scouting report:

►RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 3.91), Tigers: He’s coming off a strong outing against the Royals at Comerica Park, where he struck out seven and allowed a run on six singles in 6.1 innings. When his slider is on like it was, he’s lethal. The Royals swung at 12 sliders, whiffed on 10 and didn’t put any in play. He’s got a 40% swing-and-miss rate with the slider.

►RHP Justin Dunn (1-1, 3.72), Mariners: He’s added a couple mph on his four-seam fastball (up to 93.5 on average) and a couple hundred rpm of spin on the curveball. Opponents are hitting just .181 against him but walks bedevil at times. He’s got 20 walks and 24 strikeouts in 29 innings.

—Chris McCosky