LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers already had a Grapefruit League victory well in hand on Sunday when Joe Jimenez entered to face the Braves for the ninth inning. Still, what Jimenez did to finish the 6-3 win was impressive.Not only did Jimenez retire the Braves in order, he struck out
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers already had a Grapefruit League victory well in hand on Sunday when Joe Jimenez entered to face the Braves for the ninth inning. Still, what Jimenez did to finish the 6-3 win was impressive.
Not only did Jimenez retire the Braves in order, he struck out the side while facing relatively experienced hitters, getting a called third strike on Charlie Culberson before fanning Ryan Schimpf and Rob Brantly. The right-hander's fastball reached 96 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun, while his slider continued to show the improvement he had been working on since changing his grip with advice from new pitching coach Chris Bosio.
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With that, Jimenez stretched his Grapefruit League streak to five innings with a lone run allowed -- unearned -- on three hits. He has walked three, hit a batter and struck out eight, including six over his last three innings.
In the process, Jimenez has made an impression on the new manager trying to sort out what he has in a relatively young bullpen.
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"The ball's jumping out of his hand," Ron Gardenhire said of Jimenez, who turned 23 in January. "When he's throwing it over the plate like that and attacking hitters and putting them in the hole, I think he can be very good. Will he do that consistently? I think that's probably, to this point, what everybody's waiting for, to see if he can maintain that."
In other words, Jimenez hasn't won anything yet. Still, it's easier for him to be in this position and earn Gardenhire's trust than to be trying to overcome a slow start and prove he's worth the risk. After two years of debate over the right time to give Jimenez a chance to learn on the job, the time might be now.
Jimenez has looked more like the hard-throwing, confident reliever who rose quickly through the Tigers' farm system, earning calls for a late-season promotion in 2016. He has looked less like the young right-hander who, once called up for good last summer in the wake of the Tigers' Trade Deadline deals, struggled to get outs down the stretch, allowing 2.11 baserunners per inning for the season.
Last year is out of his mind, Jimenez insists. His task this spring has been to put it out of the Tigers' minds as well.
Part of the difference for Jimenez is fitness, his offseason in the Tigertown weight room leading to a drop in weight. Another part is mechanics, as he worked with Bosio to find a more repeatable delivery while also changing his slider and dusting off his third pitch, a changeup. Both pitches look more like his fastball as he delivers the ball, making it tougher for hitters to pick up the ball early.
"I feel a lot better now," Jimenez said. "Just mechanically, my arm feels good. Everything just seems right. [For] my offseason, I did a lot of work just trying to get better, just focus on this year."
Jimenez is also taking in information from his teammates. He picked Michael Fulmer's brain during their offseason workouts together in Tigertown. He has become Francisco Liriano's throwing partner since the veteran lefty signed with the Tigers and reported to camp a couple of weeks ago. Jimenez has also learned how to use video analysis to his advantage by watching with Tigers closer Shane Greene.
"Sometimes I just sit down and watch my outing," Jimenez said. "Maybe I don't see myself doing it at the time, but when you see something on video, you're like, 'I didn't know I was doing it.' Sometimes you have to watch some video because you don't know you're doing some things. That's how you get better."
The results help explain how Jimenez is making a case to end the Detroit-Toledo shuttle and stick in the Majors.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.