LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Jiménez spent most of last winter working out at the Tigers' Spring Training facility to get in shape for 2018. The result was an All-Star selection in his first full Major League season to go with his first three Major League saves and 78 strikeouts over
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Jiménez spent most of last winter working out at the Tigers' Spring Training facility to get in shape for 2018. The result was an All-Star selection in his first full Major League season to go with his first three Major League saves and 78 strikeouts over 62 2/3 innings, the highest workload of his professional career, and a promising young arm for the rebuilding Tigers bullpen.
When it was all done, Jimenez finally gave himself some time off.
"Training-wise, I took the month of October off," he said. "I needed that after a season that long. I went to Japan for two weeks, just to relax.
"I needed that. I needed to go away and just relax and see new things."
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For the purposes of a taxed arm, he did relax. Same, maybe, for a mind that had been trained on hitters and a mitt for eight months. For two weeks, Jimenez became a tourist.
He still got a workout of sorts.
"Two weeks of a lot of walking," he said. "You walk a lot over there. That was my workout for the day, just walk."
As fastball after fastball popped catcher Bobby Wilson's mitt during a bullpen session Friday morning, it was hard to tell Jimenez had taken a break. Now, it's up to the Tigers to help keep his arm strong through the season.
"We'll take him just like we did in Spring Training last year, going through his whole routine," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And then as the season goes along, we'll play it by ear. We have a pretty good feel when we know we're putting too much pressure on him."
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Though Jimenez led Tigers pitchers last year with 68 appearances, the vast majority were in the first half of the season. He ranked fifth among AL pitchers with 46 appearances before the All-Star break. Jimenez was dominant in those games, posting a 4-1 record, 2.72 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 48 strikeouts over 43 innings.
He rolled into a late July series against the Indians looking formidable, then took a loss to the Tribe with a three-run eighth inning. From that point on, the stretch run became a struggle, for him and for Gardenhire alike.
Gardenhire had relied on Jimenez in the eighth inning for the first half, entrusting his young reliever to carry leads to closer Shane Greene. For the stretch run, Gardenhire watched Jimenez's workload, saving the right-hander whenever he could.
Jimenez made 22 appearances after the All-Star break. He didn't pitch back-to-back days after mid-June. For the second half, he pitched on multiple days' rest more often than he pitched on one. He did not pitch in the Tigers' season-ending series at Milwaukee.
Jimenez yielded 17 runs on 17 hits over 17 2/3 innings over his last 20 appearances. He struck out 25 batters in that stretch, but yielded three home runs. His average fastball velocity slowed from 96.6 mph in June to 96 in July, 95.8 in August, then 94.8 in September, according to Statcast™.
"He had a heck of a year last year, did a really nice job," Gardenhire said. "He went through a dead-arm stretch like most pitchers do, struggled a little bit, but bounced right back from it."
While Greene remains the closer for 2019, Jimenez remains just as critical to the Tigers' fortunes as he did last year. What Gardenhire hopes can help temper Jimenez's workload is the emergence of another reliever or two to share the duties. Victor Alcántara picked up some eighth-inning opportunities down the stretch and handled them well.
"If the 'pen breaks down the way we think it's going to break down, we have some pretty good options out there," Gardenhire said. "You don't have to just pound one guy all the time. You can use guys in multiple roles. We're going to try to do the right thing with him.
"We'll take care of him. That's always on our minds. We don't just think about a year. We think about a career. And we want him to pitch for a long time."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.