Jiménez, Núñez not on Tigers' OD roster

March 27th, 2021

opened last season as the Tigers’ closer and led the team in saves. He was their All-Star representative in 2018. He will open this season at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio.

The Tigers finalized their eight-man bullpen on Saturday by optioning Jiménez to Triple-A Toledo. For the 26-year-old right-hander, it’ll mark his first time in the Minor Leagues since August 2017. It’s also be the next step in his attempt to get back to effective form after struggling through much of last season.

Jiménez reported to Spring Training looking to make a strong impression with new manager A.J. Hinch while also reversing his trend of decreased fastball velocity and spin rate the past couple years. But back-to-back rough outings, both against the Phillies, put him in a fight for his bullpen spot.

Jiménez looked better in his last couple appearances, working in more sliders and changeups, and he averaged just under 95 mph with his fastball Thursday in a scoreless inning against the Blue Jays. But in the end, strong springs from Derek Holland and Tyler Alexander, as well as Michael Fulmer’s solid response to a bullpen shift, all worked against Jiménez.

“It was a difficult conversation with Joe," Hinch said. "And he handled it very professionally, but he was obviously unhappy. From the short term, it’s a punch in the gut to not make a team out of Spring Training and be given the news that you’re going to go to the alt site and continue to work.

“The long view is we need to get him back to not just making a team, but to being a leverage reliever in how he attacks the strike zones and how he attacks hitters. He’s a big league pitcher that I think has gotten caught in between how to pitch, how to approach hitters, and ultimately has been inconsistent in getting his outs.”

Hinch believes Jiménez has the work ethic and determination to get there. He ran sprints to get in his work after receiving the news, the skipper said.

“I love the person,” Hinch said. “He’s going to work tirelessly, no doubt about it. … I hate delivering that news, but it’s a reality when we go north we’ve got to make tough calls like this.”

Jiménez’s average fastball velocity dropped from 95.5 mph in 2018 to 95.1 in '19 to 94.2 mph last year. His fastball spin rate fell from the top 3% of MLB pitchers in 2018 to the top 11% last year.

Núñez won’t make roster
Though came to Spring Training as a non-roster invite, the former Orioles slugger was widely expected to become the Tigers’ primary first baseman, maybe even as an everyday starter. Instead, Núñez is weighing his options after being told he will not make Detroit’s Opening Day roster.

The Tigers informed Núñez ahead of the opt-out date in his contract. He can decline a Minor League assignment and become a free agent.

Núñez hit 12 home runs last season, more than any Tiger did.

“I told him in the meeting that the hardest part of all this is we’re turning away an offensive player that can help us,” Hinch said. “He’s a big league player, and has put up numbers and has answered the question on whether or not he can compete at the Major League level, and we said no to him. And that’s hard news to deliver. It’s harder news to hear as the player. He was disappointed, and rightfully so.”

Hinch left the door open for Núñez to accept an assignment in Toledo and said they could eventually change their minds and call up Núñez during the season.

“If he stays in the organization, I think that opportunity will present itself for him,” Hinch said, “but he’s going to have a lot of options.”

Hinch fondly remembers Mike Bell
Hinch was the D-backs farm director looking for a short-season Class A manager when his boss, then-general manager Josh Byrnes, recommended he talk to a just-retired player named Mike Bell, the son of former Tigers manager Buddy Bell. Hinch not only made Bell a manager in Yakima, Wash., he made a friend.

That was in 2007. Bell followed Hinch into player development in the D-backs' front office a few years later, then moved into coaching last year as Twins bench coach under Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli. They kept in touch along the way.

Understandably, Bell’s death Friday after a battle with kidney cancer hit Hinch hard.

“Just a heavy heart with the news of Mike,” Hinch said, fighting back emotions. “I have a long history with him. Life is so fragile, and it’s difficult to even talk about how much thoughts and prayers are obviously always with families when something like this happens.

“It’s remarkable what the Bell family has done for baseball, but it goes beyond baseball with the relationships built over time. I’m just really sad for Kelly and the kids and the entire Bell family. The baseball world is the biggest support system that I’ve ever been around and will continue to be so for that family as they process all this.”