Detroit Tigers changing Joe Jimenez's role in bullpen after recent struggles
After Wednesday's game at Comerica Park, Joe Jimenez walked out of the weight room inside the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse, headphones over his hooded head, straight to his locker and then into the weight room again.
A short while earlier, Jimenez had the win the Tigers have been looking for in his hands, standing on the mound against the Pirates in the top of the eighth inning with a one-run lead.
But Jimenez was quick again. He wasn’t staying over the pitching rubber. He was landing early, opening up his front side early, too, and pitched as erratically as he did in his last outing a week ago.
Jimenez’s eighth inning – a single, walk and hit-by-pitch – allowed the Pirates back in the game, a game in which they won in extra innings again, 3-2, after ambushing another Tigers reliever in the 10th inning.
Of all the things testing the Tigers’ patience early this season – their punch-less offense chief among them – Jimenez’s recent struggles added a sour taste to what is now a five-game losing streak.
“Yeah, there’s concern,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He was misfiring pretty good.”
One of those misfires – a low-90 mph fastball off the batting helmet of Pirates outfielder Starling Marte – highlighted just how lost Jimenez is at the moment. The pitch, which caught Marte in the left ear flap, came in an 0-2 count.
The hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with no outs. Daniel Stumpf would come in and finish the inning, allowing only the tying run on a sacrifice fly, but the Tigers wouldn’t score again.
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In the span of seven pitches to open the 10th, Buck Farmer allowed three straight hits, and the game-winning run.
“They didn’t let him breathe,” Gardenhire said.
The Tigers once again didn’t do much offensively – they scored on a sacrifice fly and bloop hit to left field in the fourth to take the lead – leaving the margin of error on the mound razor thin.
It was Jimenez’s first work since April 10 against the Indians, when he walked three batters in the eighth inning, unable to complete the frame.
“We’re probably going to get him in a little bit better situation next time out, get him some confidence back,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a little frustrated right now – we haven’t seen that from him in a while – so we’ll try to set up a better situation for him this next time out and try to make him relax a little bit.”
The translation: Jimenez, at least for the time being, will be pitching in lower-leverage situations.
From catcher John Hicks’ view, Jimenez looked good against his first batter faced, but quickly sped up from there.
“It’s a relatively easy fix,” Hicks said. “It should be. But when you get out there and your juices get flowing, it makes it tougher.”
Everything is coming tough for the Tigers right now. Their strong start has dissipated and they are under .500 again, with a tough three-city road trip to Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia looming. Most importantly, their offense has not appeared.
“This one is definitely frustrating,” Hicks said. “We gotta be better at winning games we should win. It seems like there’s that one play that could kind of change the game and it’s going the other way instead of our way.”
On Wednesday night, it was not just one play. It was one inning. And Jimenez won’t be pitching in that inning again until he can show some improvement.