By: Will Burchfield
When Joe Jimenez heard a knock on his hotel room door at 5:00 this morning, he feared the worst.
“At 5 a.m. you think something’s going on,” he said.
But concern quickly turned to bliss.
It was Toledo Mud Hens manager Mike Rojas telling Jimenez he had been called up to the Tigers. The 22-year-old pitcher could make his MLB debut as soon as Monday afternoon.
“It was a pretty great experience to feel that,” said Jimenez, standing in the Tigers dugout an hour or so after arriving in Detroit. “I still don’t believe it, man. Being here with these guys is just amazing.”
The Tigers called up Jimenez to take the place of the struggling Bruce Rondon, who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. They have high expectations for the flame-throwing righty, but Brad Ausmus is committed to easing him into the big leagues.
That’s just fine for Jimenez.
“I’m gonna be ready whatever inning he needs me. I’m not going to concentrate on one inning. If he wants me to pitch whenever, I will be ready,” Jimenez said.
So, along with a high-90s fastball and a plus changeup, Jimenez has a team-first mentality.
But don’t let his humility fool you. Jimenez dominated hitters in both Double-A and Triple-A last season and was named the Tigers minor-league pitcher of the year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him scamper up the bullpen depth chart.
“We’ll let him get his feet wet and see if he performs alight,” said Ausmus. “And if he performs well, we can increase the leverage.”
For Jimenez, the biggest key will be developing his slider. He certainly didn’t lack confidence when asked about the pitch on Monday.
“I think it’s 100 percent right now, because I felt pretty good starting spring training. And then in the World Baseball Classic and the two games that I threw in Triple-A I thought it was pretty good,” Jimenez said.
And the Tigers are hoping he’ll take to the tutelage of a former Cy Young winner.
“We’ve got some guys here, like (Justin) Verlander, who’s created a brand new slider, so we think he can help him out in that sense,” said general manager Al Avila.
Jimenez seems like the perfect pupil. While pitching for Puerto Rico in the WBC, he soaked up advice like a sponge.
“I learned so much from the guys that were there,” he said.
Who, in particular?
“Everybody, everybody has a lot of experience there,” he said, referencing former big-leaguer J.C. Romero and Mariners reliever Edwin Diaz. “It was crazy.”
Jimenez figured to get called up at some point this season, but admitted the promotion came sooner than he expected. (Ausmus said the same thing.) Not that he’s complaining, or anything — he’s been dreaming about this day for as long as he can remember.
“Wow, you don’t know even about it, man. It’s crazy, because I have a brother that is also a player and I thought he was getting the call first, we were arguing about it,” he said with a smile. “But it’s great, man, it feels great.”
After catching his bearings and rubbing the sleep from his eyes upon receiving the good news on Monday morning, Jimenez called his dad.
“I told him to put it on speaker, but like I said, it was at 5 a.m.,” Jimenez grinned, “so he wasn’t expecting that either.”
Then his mom came on the phone, and it wasn’t long before all three of them were in tears.
“He was crying, I cried, and my mom was crying, too,” Jimenez said.
Not a bad wake-up call, after all.