By Will Burchfield
Joe Jimenez’s MLB career hasn’t gotten off to the start many had hoped for.
Despite dominating at every level in the minors, the hard-throwing righty has had a tough go of it so far in the Bigs. He has a 12.46 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP over five appearances. He was sent down to Triple-A Toledo on Monday in favor of Chad Bell, his second demotion in the past three weeks.
But the Detroit Tigers want Jimenez to keep his head up.
“Really, the message is don’t think that we don’t understand that he doesn’t need to prove he can get Triple-A hitters out,” said manager Brad Ausmus, “because we know he can get Triple-A hitters out. He’s proved that, but there is a big difference between the big leagues and Triple-A.”
For Jimenez, 24, the biggest hurdle that remains in succeeding in the majors is developing a reliable breaking pitch.
“We just want him, first of all, to keep his dauber up. Don’t let this bother him, having gone up and down twice now in the span of three weeks or so,” Ausmus said. “But more importantly, continue to work on that slider because that could be the difference-maker in terms of making the jump to the big leagues and sticking here on a permanent basis.”
There’s no doubt that Jimenez throws plenty hard and has the aggressiveness to get out big-league hitters. But an effective slider would push his ceiling even higher.
“I’d be surprised if he didn’t come back, regardless. But we think that could make him from being just another major league relief arm to being a somewhat dominant relief arm, like he was in the minor leagues. I’ve tried to stress it, that the big-league hitters are just better. They’re far and away better than Triple-A hitters,” Ausmus said.
The Tigers called up Bell at the recommendation of Toledo manager Mike Rojas and pitching coach Jeff Pico. The 28-year-old lefty has pitched extremely well for the Mud Hens, posting a 1.25 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP over four starts.
“We like the fact that he’s left-handed, certainly against Cleveland, but it was more about having length in the bullpen,” Ausmus said prior to Monday night’s game versus the Indians. “We’ve had some guys we’ve used back-to-back days we’d like to avoid, and he’s a starter whose regular turn would be today so he can go real long if we need him to.”