By: Will Burchfield
It was only two hiccups, but the Tigers didn’t need to see any more from reliever Bruce Rondon.
They optioned the hard-throwing righty to Triple-A Toledo on Monday morning after he had been blasted in each of his two prior outings.
“It was apparent that, right now, we don’t think he was ready to help us,” said general manager Al Avila.
In Rondon’s place, the Tigers called up Joe Jimenez, a 22-year-old with an electric right arm. He could make his MLB debut as soon as Monday afternoon.
“We talked to our minor-league guys and asked them who would be the best guy to bring up. They all said Joe Jimenez,” Avila said.
Tigers fans have long been clamoring for the team to call-up Jimenez. He has made mincemeat of hitters in both Double-A and Triple-A and was named the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year in 2016. He has a fastball that touches triple digits and a strong changeup to boot.
“We feel that with his fastball and changeup he can get outs,” Avila said, while noting that Jimenez’ slider is still a question mark. “What he’s going to need to do is have good fastball command, mix in the changeup and keep on working on his slider — not too different than Michael Fulmer last year. When he came up here we made him throw that changeup quite often and it was effective for him, so that’s what we’re hoping for here (with Jimenez.)”
Both Avila and Brad Ausmus said the team will ease Jimenez into action, using him in low-leverage situations to start.
“We’re certainly not going to throw him out there in a one-run game in the eighth inning,” Ausmus said. “Just wouldn’t be fair to him. Probably ease him into some situations, let him get his feet wet and see if he performs alight. And if he performs well, we can increase the leverage.”
For the time being, lefty Justin Wilson, who has looked very good in the early going, will assume Rondon’s role as the Tigers’ eighth inning set-up man.
In projecting Jimenez’ immediate future in the big leagues, Ausmus preached caution.
“We might catch lightning in a bottle, but I caution you on thinking that this is some type of answer. This is a young kid with a big arm who is still developing. He’s gonna have to develop his slider, it’s gonna have to get better,” Ausmus said. “These are big-league hitters, a lot of them have been hitting at this level for almost a decade, and if you think that you’re gonna call a guy up that throws 97 and all of a sudden he’s going to dominate hitters, chances are you’re going to be wrong.
“So to expect this guy to be Mariano Rivera would be unfair to the kid, and we certainly wouldn’t put him in that position to try and be Mariano Rivera. He’s going to be down in the pen, we’re probably going to start him easy. We hope he performs well, we hope he develops, but putting undue pressure on him is not going to make him go forward.”
Ausmus figured Jimenez would get called up at some point this season, but admitted he didn’t expect it would happen so soon.
“There’s some rules at play that kind of forced the issue, collective bargaining rules,” he explained. “You can’t call anyone up within ten days of the start of the season. Only a player that is not on the (40-man) roster can be brought to the big leagues.”
“I think it’s an imperfect situation,” he added, “but we don’t live in a perfect world.”
In two appearances for Triple-A Toledo this season, Jimenez surrendered two hits and no runs while walking two and striking out three.