Detroit Tigers Don’t Need Joe Jimenez, Unless They’re Creative

Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World pitcher Joe Jimenez throws to first base in the second inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 10, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; World pitcher Joe Jimenez throws to first base in the second inning during the All Star Game futures baseball game at PetCo Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Detroit Tigers shouldn’t rush Joe Jimenez to the majors as the starters, and not the bullpen, have been the major issue. But he could serve an important role in 2016 if they get a bit creative.

The name that has been on the lips of many Detroit Tigers’ fans throughout this up and down 2016 season has been Joe Jimenez, and with good reason. The prospect is having his version of a Michael Fulmer-like season down on the farm, boasting an incredible scoreless innings streak that began last season and ended in late June.

The 21-year old Puerto Rican native’s scoreless streak lasted 31.1 innings, over two seasons, and two levels of minor league competition. Jimenez was one of three Detroit prospects to play in last week’s MLB Futures Game, retiring the only batter he faced on three pitches.

By the lofty standards that he has set for himself, Jimenez is actually slumping. He’s allowed three runs in the last nine innings (nine appearances) for Double-A Erie, to send his ERA skyrocketing to 1.50 (with a WHIP of 0.89).

Sarcasm aside, these numbers are pretty astonishing, and likely worthy of a promotion to the big leagues at some point this year, even if said promotion means skipping Triple-A altogether. After all, that worked pretty well for Fulmer (who spent just three games at the AAA level with Toledo).

Bullpen Isn’t a Priority at the Moment

With every lousy Mark Lowe outing, coupled with the club’s inability to do the right thing and DFA the faltering reliever, the calls from Tigers’ fans for Jimenez to get his chance keep growing.

More from Detroit Jock City

Here’s the thing, the Tigers’ bullpen since the beginning of June, while not great, hasn’t been as bad as some make it out to be. Lowe has a 12.00 ERA in nine appearances, but Kyle Ryan is the only other reliever to have an ERA above four when pitching more than twice out of the bullpen over the last 30 days.

The problem is shockingly not the bullpen, but the rotation, which has been hit with injuries to Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann. This leaves only Justin Verlander and Fulmer as starters that give the Tigers a good shot at winning every time they take the mound.

Just like with the refusal to do anything about Lowe, the Tigers still continue to trot out Mike Pelfrey (5.34 ERA & 1.92 WHIP in his last six starts) and Anibal Sanchez (8.69 ERA & 1.83 WHIP in his last seven games). Usually when you have one black hole at the end of the rotation, you can chalk it up to “fifth guy” syndrome, but the Tigers refuse to look for other ways to fill the multiple holes left behind by Zimmermann and Norris.

Sanchez starts especially, like tonight’s game, have the feeling of a given loss since the former ERA champ has a knack for giving up multiple runs early. It is almost like when Anibal pitches, the Tigers are a bowling team receiving a 100-pin handicap before throwing their first ball down the alley.

Related Story: Deadline looms as need for pitching increases

(Past) Time To Try Something Else

While it seems the bullpen is always a need for the Tigers, it is not THE pressing need at this moment. Since Jimenez is a reliever, and likely the closer of the future, he doesn’t help the starter concerns unless the organization wants to be creative in filling these holes.

An easy scenario would be to promote Jimenez and move Shane Greene to the rotation. One of the reasons the bullpen hasn’t been gut-wrenchingly bad is because Greene has given them a strong late innings presence. With Jimenez, assuming he’s able to do half of what has done in the minors, the loss in the bullpen with Greene’s ascension would be minimal.

A more creative, and highly unlikely, scenario would be to pair a couple of relievers to have a “bullpen” game every turn or two through the rotation. Think of Alex Wilson, when he started a game for the Tigers last year in Oakland. Perhaps Wilson, who started 69 games in the minors, could be paired with Greene to get five innings together. The drawback to this, of course, is that it weakens the bullpen if Fulmer or Verlander falter and require an early exit.

Expect Much of the Same 

Certainly that is not an ideal scenario, but neither is Sanchez going out there every fifth day to give the Tigers no chance at winning. It would also mean the Tigers were creatively looking for ways to get decent starts from their pitching staff, which just hasn’t been the case this year.

Take the game before the All-Star Break in Toronto. The Tigers had a shot to split the four-game series, which would mean they’d lose no ground to the AL Wild-Card leading Blue Jays. Instead they sent Sanchez to the mound, and quickly fell behind by five runs in the fourth inning and never recovered.

A creative solution would have been to use Verlander to start that game. He had pitched on Friday, but Sunday was his bullpen throwing day and he could have likely gone two innings following by several relievers. Rest wouldn’t be a concern since everyone but Miguel Cabrera was about to get four days off. Instead they went with the tried and true, and ended up with an expected loss.

Next: Tigers were trying to scout Rich Hill on Sunday

Since the Tigers remain committed to failing at least once a week, there is no need to rush Jimenez and use up one of his options. They could, of course, use Jimenez in another way to better the starting rotation by trading him at the deadline, but with the Tigers facing a questionable future in the next couple of years, trading him would likely be a mistake.