In an equally aggressive and desperate move, the Detroit Tigers awoke top prospect Joe Jimenez around 5 this morning.
Knocking on his hotel room door in Indianapolis was Triple-A Toledo manager Mike Rojas. The reason? Jimenez was still amazed nearly seven hours later, as he stood inside the Tigers' dugout at Comerica Park: He had been called up to the major leagues.
“I still don’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head. “Being here, with these guys, it’s just amazing.”
After right-hander Bruce Rondon’s spring training struggles bled into the regular season -- six runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings -- the team made the bold move to promote their top prospect only a week into the season.
It came at the expense of Rondon, who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers once again are imploring him to focus on his conditioning and fastball command.
“We decided to go that way based on -- we felt that Bruce needed more time to get ready for the season,” general manager Al Avila said. “We were hoping that, before we broke spring training, we were hoping that, by giving him the benefit of the doubt, that he could come in and help right away. We just felt that he needed more time to get himself ready.”
Jimenez’s rapid rise through the Tigers’ system was going to result in a call-up at some point this season. The team has been stringent on making sure he developed properly in the minor leagues, focusing on off-speed pitches to pair with a mid-90-m.p.h. fastball.
That development will now continue in the big leagues, working in low-leverage situations.
“We might catch lightning in a bottle,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But I’d caution you on thinking that this is some type of answer. This is a young kid with a big arm who is still developing.
“Certainly not going to throw him out there in a one-run game in the eighth inning. Probably ease him into some situations, let him get his feet wet and see if he performs all right. If he performs well, then we’ll increase the leverage.”
It’s fine by Jimenez. “I’m going to be ready,” he said. “Whatever inning that I’m needed, I’m going to concentrate on that inning.”
Both Avila and Ausmus indicated that the call-up came sooner than the team would have liked.
Said Avila: “Ideally, we probably would have liked to have given him more time.”
Said Ausmus: “I don’t think I would have predicted it this fast.”
But a number of factors forced their hand, not the least of which was Rondon’s ineffectiveness.
Jimenez, 22, tore through the minor leagues last season, posting a 1.51 ERA and 0.80 WHIP between Class A Lakeland, Double-A Erie and Toledo. This spring, he had some success pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. He threw two scoreless innings with the Mud Hens to start the 2017 regular season.
“I feel great,” he said. “I feel great. … I wasn’t expecting it this early, but it feels great to be here.”
With the Tigers, Jimenez will continue to develop his slider, which has been the focus for the better part of a year. He is not a finished product, but the team apparently could not wait any longer to boost a bullpen that again looks like an Achilles heel.
“These are big-league hitters,” Ausmus said. “A lot of them have been hitting at this level for a decade, and if you think you’re going to call up a guy that throws 97 (m.p.h.) and, all of a sudden, he’s going to dominate hitters, the chances are you’re going to be wrong.
“So to expect this guy to be Mariano Rivera would be unfair to the kid, and we certainly wouldn’t put him in a position to try and be Mariano Rivera.”
All the Tigers want him to be is Jimenez, a reliever with a lightning-quick arm that attacks the zone and, sometime soon, can help fill the late-innings void.