By: Will Burchfield
If there’s any benefit to the Tigers’ bleak outlook at this point in the season, it’s that unproven players can be thrown into the fire.
Shane Greene has taken over the job as closer. Dixon Machado has assumed a bigger role in the infield. Jeimer Candelario may well be called up in September.
The auditions will continue over the final two months, as the games wane in importance to the performance of certain individuals.
So, where’s Joe Jimenez?
The Tigers recalled the flame-throwing righty from Triple-A Toledo after Justin Wilson was dealt to the Cubs at the deadline. Since then, a span of 10 days, Jimenez has appeared in just two games.
There seemed to be a logical spot to use him in Thursday’s contest versus the Pirates, with the Tigers trailing 6-3 heading into the eighth, but Brad Ausmus opted for veteran Edward Mujica instead.
Mujica served up a home run to the first batter he faced.
Ausmus said he never thought about calling on Jimenez.
“It’s a three-run game at the time. Mujica’s a veteran guy, we wanna kind of keep (the score) there, so he’s the guy I went to,” said Ausmus.
“We’re still trying to win baseball games,” the skipper added. “Joe’s gonna get his opportunities. He’s struggled a little bit since he’s been here, but I gotta try and keep the (deficit) at three runs.”
True, Jimenez hasn’t looked good in his two outings since being recalled. He’s given up six hits and five runs in 1 1/3 innings. Then again, Mujica hasn’t been much better.
There was little reason to believe he would keep the Pirates at bay.
Mujica does not project as a significant part of the Tigers’ future, if any part at all. Jimenez, with his immense talent, most certainly does. But that’s where things get tricky. As much as Jimenez needs the big-league experience, so must the Tigers be mindful of his psyche.
It doesn’t help a prospect to continuously fail.
“You want them to do well, so you want them to be in a situation where you hope they succeed,” Ausmus said. “In particular with pitchers, and Joe, you want to bring him into a situation where you feel like he can succeed and he won’t feel like he let his teammates down.”
It’s an emotion Jimenez has grown troublingly familiar with at the big-league level. He’s allowed a run in five of his seven appearances with the Tigers. His ERA is 17.47.
The stuff’s there, but the results are not. The Tigers don’t want Jimenez to start doubting the former.
For now, Ausmus feels, the 22-year-old is best served by working things out in low-pressure spots.
“You know what the bottom line is? Joe’s performance is gonna dictate when he pitches. That’s what it comes down to. The players pretty much determine when they play and when they don’t play. We’ll get him into games. If he starts pitching well, he probably gets into bigger situations,” said Ausmus. “It’s pretty simple math.”