For the first time in 2020, Detroit Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez has delivered three consecutive scoreless appearances.
Albeit, not in his desired role.
The ex-closer collapsed in August by allowing 12 earned runs in six innings — leaving then-manager Ron Gardenhire with no choice but to find other ways to use him. That didn’t work at first either, as Jimenez gave up six runs across five innings to begin September.
[ Tigers’ Ron Gardenhire retires as manager after nearly 3 seasons ]
But since conceding three runs and only recording two outs Sept. 10 in a 12-2 loss, the 25-year-old has pitched flawlessly against the Chicago White Sox (Sept. 12), Kansas City Royals (Sept. 16) and Cleveland Indians (Sept. 18).
Yet Gardenhire wasn’t anywhere near ready to give him the closer role back.
“As far as saying he’s going to close some games, I don’t know about that,” Gardenhire said Saturday, hours before stepping down. “We’ll just have to wait and see if he has a couple more outings like he did the last two. I’m not afraid to put him anywhere because he’s been a closer and knows what it takes to do that, but he’s went through his struggles.”
Through 18 innings this season, he owns a 9.00 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, seven homers allowed, six walks, five hit batters and 18 strikeouts.
Seven scheduled games remain, and the Tigers have fallen further out of postseason contention with two wins in the past 10 contests. Because of this, there isn’t a lot of time for Jimenez to get on track — making him an unlikely candidate to return as the closer soon.
A few more scoreless outings, however, wouldn’t hurt his chances as the franchise looks toward the 2021 season.
“It’s important for this team, this organization,” Gardenhire said. “We have decisions to make on what’s going to happen next year, and he’s a big part of it, whether closing or whatever. He’s a power arm, a big, strong arm.
“We know he can do it. He’s just gone through a real rough stretch here, and he’s starting to come out of it.”
Hill makes it look easy
Derek Hill stood in right-center field when reliever Buck Farmer’s 93.6 mph fastball soared above the strike zone in the top of the eighth inning Friday against the Indians. In a 1-2 count with two outs and a runner on first base, Franmil Reyes took a swing.
His hit had a .500 expected batting average, and it looked to be a run-scoring double.
But Hill traveled 111 feet to make the catch in stride.
“He ran a long way very fast,” Gardenhire said. “He can fly, and he can get some jumps on some balls. He’s an above-average defender. I would like to see some of the data on how far he ran for that baseball because I’m sure the chances of that being a hit were pretty high. … He made it look a lot easier than that catch was.”
A first-round pick (No. 24 overall) from the 2014 draft, Hill was called up to the majors Sept. 2 after spending six seasons in the Tigers’ farm system. He made his MLB debut Sept. 4 against the Minnesota Twins as a defensive replacement.
He has made 11 appearances this season, all as a defensive replacement or pinch-runner. He is 0-for-7 with one walk, four strikeouts and two runs scored.
“We’re just kind of using him as best we can,” Gardenhire said. “We’re in a pennant race right now. As long as we’re in this thing, we’re going to run out there with our best possible team we can put out there.”
Now that utility player Harold Castro has returned, the likelihood of Hill getting a start decreases further. Even when fellow rookie Daz Cameron was in a 1-for-27 slump to begin his career, Gardenhire wouldn’t start Hill. Instead, he used Travis Demeritte, who is now back at the alternate training site in Toledo.
Hill is going to remain a defensive substitute.
“If we’re leading, most likely, that’s what we’ve got him here for, to cover ground in the outfield,” Gardenhire said. “That’s an option for us if we have to do that and think that’s going to make us cover more ground in the outfield. Absolutely, we would do it with a lead.”
In the ninth inning Friday, Gardenhire called for Cameron to pinch-hit for Hill. The decision paid off, as Cameron ripped a triple with one out. The Tigers were unable to drive him in because of back-to-back strikeouts from Jorge Bonifacio and Goodrum to conclude the 1-0 loss.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop landed on the 10-day injured list Sept. 15, retroactive to Sept. 13, with a right wrist sprain. He is at the alternate training site in Toledo rehabbing, but it is only a matter of time before he returns.
“He still feels it in his wrist, so he still has an issue there,” Gardenhire said. “We just call it day-to-day until he gets done with his seven days, and then we see where we go from there.”
The Tigers have Niko Goodrum at second base to continue evaluating Willi Castro at shortstop, so it’s unclear how the infield will shake out if Schoop returns before the season ends.
Through 44 games, Schoop is hitting .278 with eight homers and 23 RBIs.
Starting catcher Austin Romine took a 97.8 mph fastball in the dirt off his left wrist and was forced to exit Friday’s game in the ninth inning. After the game, Gardenhire said the X-rays came back negative. The only damage was a bruise.
On Saturday, backup catcher Eric Haase received the starting nod, but that doesn’t mean there’s long-term concern with Romine. In 33 games, the 31-year-old is hitting .245 with two homers and 15 RBIs.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.