Eduardo Jimenez thrilled to join Tigers' bullpen

May 5th, 2019

DETROIT -- looked like a pitcher struggling to hold onto a 40-man roster spot in Spring Training, then he was seemingly buried in the bullpen at Double-A Erie when the regular season began. He was a surprising promotion to Triple-A Toledo a few weeks ago after just three innings of Double-A work.

So excuse the 24-year-old right-hander if he was still pinching himself on Sunday morning to make sure he was really sitting in the clubhouse at Comerica Park and not just dreaming.

“I didn’t believe it last night when I received the phone call,” Jimenez said. “I’m here right now and I don’t believe it. ...

“I still do not believe that I’m finally here. Since I was a kid, I’ve been dreaming about that. And right now, that I’m right here in Detroit, having next to me all these Major Leaguers with all this experience, it’s something I cannot believe.”

The opportunity came on the flip side of the Tigers’ decision to designate Drew VerHagen for assignment after his six-run inning on Saturday. Manager Ron Gardenhire needed a fresh arm in the bullpen after Tyson Ross’ quick exit on Saturday led to 7 2/3 innings of relief work.

Though VerHagen’s exit opened a spot on the 40-man roster, the Tigers opted for Jimenez, having gone to great lengths to keep him on the roster over the last season-plus. He was one of the few Mud Hens relievers who didn’t pitch in Toledo’s 11-inning game against Columbus on Saturday night.

Given the circumstances, the Tigers' front office decided it’s time to figure out whether Jimenez can pitch in the big leagues.

“This is the guy [general manager] Al [Avila] and them decided on,” Gardenhire said. “We saw him in Spring Training and now we’re going to see him up here. We’ll see how he handles it.”

Jimenez has just 13 innings in 10 appearances above Class A ball, but he has handled it well. After three innings of two-run ball (one earned) at Erie, Jimenez allowed three runs on seven hits over 10 innings at Toledo, walking six and striking out 10.

Jimenez credits Erie coach Santiago Garrido with helping him develop a changeup to go with his sinker-slider combination. Once Jimenez made it to Toledo, he credits Mud Hens pitching coach Juan Nieves -- a former big league pitching coach with the Red Sox and Marlins -- with helping him see the big picture with his game and the opportunity in front of him.

Once the opportunity arrived on Saturday night, Jimenez called his mother, who was having friends over at home.

“She started screaming and yelling around the house everywhere,” Jimenez said. “She was so happy and full of joy. This is a dream.”

The Tigers are operating with a nine-man bullpen and a four-man rotation thanks to a bevy of recent off-days, but Tuesday will begin a stretch of 14 games in 13 days. They’ll need not only a fifth starter on Saturday at Minnesota, but also a sixth starter for the other game of that doubleheader.

Speaking of extra starters ...

The Tigers’ options to start that doubleheader on Saturday are quickly dwindling. Two days after the Mud Hens placed Beau Burrows on the 7-day injured list with biceps tendinitis, fellow prospect Kyle Funkhouser joined him on the IL with soreness in his shoulder.

Neither injury is believed to be serious based on MRI results, Avila said. Both IL stints could be minimal. Still, Funkhouser, ranked as the Tigers' No. 11 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has been regarded as a more realistic option to start in Detroit at some point this season based on experience. Avila cited Funkhouser as a potential option last week when asked by the Detroit News if he could show improvement after a rough opening month. He tossed four innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts on Tuesday, but he has lasted six innings once in six starts this season.

Given the injuries, the Tigers’ two most realistic options for Saturday are left-handers Ryan Carpenter and Matt Hall. Both have experience with the Tigers from last season, and both are on the 40-man roster. Carpenter was in line for a spot start last weekend against the White Sox before a snowout allowed the Tigers to stick with a four-man rotation.

Zimmermann begins throwing program

Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann was on the field at Comerica Park early Sunday morning, throwing for the first time since he was sidelined with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain 10 days ago. He played catch without any apparent issue.

Zimmermann will continue progressing with a throwing program based on how his arm feels from day to day. The best-case scenario for a return is 2-3 weeks away.

Stewart could return this week

Tigers outfielder Christin Stewart, who is on the 10-day injured list with a right quad strain, went 1-for-2 with a walk in his second rehab game for Class A Advanced Lakeland on Saturday. The plan, according to Gardenhire, is for Stewart, the club's No. 8 prospect, to play five or six games before a potential return. That would put him on track for later this week against the Angels or next weekend against the Twins.