LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Jimenez didn't report to Spring Training so much as he hung around to welcome everybody else here."I feel like I never left," Jimenez said Thursday, smiling after a bullpen session on the back mounds at Tigertown.Now, he's hoping the months of work he put in here
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Jimenez didn't report to Spring Training so much as he hung around to welcome everybody else here.
"I feel like I never left," Jimenez said Thursday, smiling after a bullpen session on the back mounds at Tigertown.
Now, he's hoping the months of work he put in here help him head north to Detroit when the Tigers break camp in six weeks.
It wasn't his plan to hang in Lakeland this offseason. Normally, he goes home to Puerto Rico and works out there. Then Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck, devastating his family's home and much of the rest of the island.
He wanted to go home and help, but his parents told him to stay in the States. They made plans to meet in Texas and stay with his brother A.J., a catcher with the Rangers, but his parents eventually returned to Puerto Rico to go back to work. His mother is an accountant, while his father is a handyman with a local company that had plenty of work for him. Though their home didn't get power restored until earlier this month, their workplaces were back on the grid earlier.
With nowhere to be and nothing to do but train, Jimenez gravitated to Lakeland, where the recent renovation project produced a state-of-the-art weight room.
"They've got everything here, and they know what you need," Jimenez said. "And it's better to be here so [trainers] can see you, too. That's the good part. That's why I came here. When I told the trainers that I was coming, they were happy."
He's far from the first to do this. Infielder Dixon Machado has spent his last couple offseasons in Lakeland, while Michael Fulmer spent an extended stretch to rehab following his ulnar transposition surgery.
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For Jimenez, it was of particular benefit. He lost weight while adding strength.
"I wasn't feeling bad last season," Jimenez said. "I wasn't feeling like I was big or I can't move. Obviously I feel I can move better on the mound. That's one thing, and another thing [new pitching Chris] Bosio told me was, 'Hey, when you start getting into games, when you do mechanics, you'll feel better. Because every time that you do something wrong, your mind is going to say it and your body can do it right.'
"That was the thing last year. If I did something bad, my mind knew that I had to do better but my body wasn't able to do it."
That ability to sense a mechanical flaw and correct it on the fly is a challenge nearly every young pitcher encounters. Some never solve it.
"That's what separates the good guys from the other guys," he said. "If I'm able to do that during the game, I will be the best pitcher that I can be. That's what's going to get me to the next level."
The question the Tigers will face this spring is whether Jimenez is better off learning in the Majors. He has a 1.77 ERA and 52 strikeouts over 40 2/3 innings in 43 Triple-A appearances since 2016, compared to a 12.32 ERA and 31 hits over 19 innings in Detroit last year.
"The thing about Joe at Triple-A, and it's pretty much true of his entire Minor League career, is that he can dominate there with the fastball. And the next step is a big step," general manager Al Avila said. "And Joe is not unique to this situation.
"Obviously he has the determination, as you've seen, and the discipline to get his body in the best shape possible and worked on his secondary pitches, worked on his mechanics to get better command and control. He's still a work in progress, but he's making good progress right now."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.