DETROIT — Joe Jimenez understands why Detroit Tigers fans might think last season was a bad year for him.
The young reliever agrees — at least to a degree.
“When I tell other players I had a bad season, they say, ‘What are you talking about? You got to the big leagues,’” Jimenez said. “I spent time in the big leagues, and I learned a lot.
“I think those things will help me this season.”
But Jimenez, who is competing for a job in the Detroit bullpen, also knows his struggles in his first extended time in the majors cast some doubt on his ability to earn a spot in this year’s bullpen. In 24 relief appearances with the Tigers in 2017, the 23-year-old surrendered 31 hits and nine walks in just 19 innings, resulting in 26 earned runs and a bloated 12.32 ERA.
While Jimenez was happy to reach the majors for the first time, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander has bigger aspirations.
“I don’t want to just get there and maybe just stay for a little bit,” he said. “Obviously that’s what a lot of guys try to do.
“But I want to get there and stay there.”
Last year’s time in the big leagues was the first time the native of Puerto Rico has struggled in his professional career. Jimenez has a 1.56 career ERA in the minors after rocketing through the Tigers minor-league system in 2016, posting a 1.51 ERA with 78 strikeouts in 53⅔ innings split at three levels.
Last year Jimenez had success with the Mud Hens, posting a 1.44 ERA in 26 appearances despite missing more than a month of the season because of back problems.
Those numbers stand in stark contrast to his numbers in Detroit, and the right-hander said the lessons he has learned in Toledo now need to be applied in the majors.
“It’s the same game: You still have to hit and run and throw [to win],” Jimenez said. “But in the big leagues, the hitters are more patient, and they have a better approach than [hitters] in the minors.
“I’ll try to attack the zone more, and I want to make my pitches better, sharper.”
Jimenez said he spent most of the offseason at the Tigers’ winter facilities in Lakeland, Fla., working on his consistency.
“I think my pitches are there, but I’m trying to be more consistent with my pitches,” he said. “I think if I throw good pitches and attack the zone, I’ll stay there.
“I talked with [new Tigers pitching coach Chris] Bosio before spring training started, and he said I have everything I need to pitch in the majors.”
And Jimenez hopes that greater consistency should result in more confidence.
“Baseball is tough, so if you make it tougher things are only going to get worse,” Jimenez said. “You have to be yourself.
“I can’t say I am confident because I’m coming off a bad season. But I learned a lot from last year, and I’ll try to bring something new this season.
“I’m the same Joe Jimenez that I was last year, but I’ve learned from the bad things that happened.”
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