Back injury brings Joe Jimenez’s renaissance season to an end

Detroit News

Chicago – For more than a month now, it looked like Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez had an electronic stimulation device fused onto his back. If you saw him walking through the clubhouse, invariably, his right arm was heavily wrapped and the stimulation device was strapped on, lights flashing.

And now we know why.

The Tigers announced before Saturday’s game that Jimenez has been placed on the 15-day injured list with a right lumbar spine strain. The move effectively ends what has been a career season for 27-year-old and second-longest tenured Tigers player after Miguel Cabrera.

“It’s been there for like a month but I was just fighting through and grinding,” Jimenez said. “At least I knew I could go out there and pitch. But last night (Friday) it felt different and I just said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to put the team in a bad position. I’m just going to do everything I can to get back soon.’ ”

Jimenez said he dealt with a similar issue in 2017 but until recently it hadn’t flared back up.

“It was going to get worse,” Jimenez said, “and I didn’t want that either.”

Manager AJ Hinch, of course, knew that Jimenez had been dealing with back stiffness and had begun to trim his workload. He hadn’t pitching in back-to-back games since Aug. 27-28.

“He never really mentioned it because it was something he was just grinding through,” Hinch said. “But in Baltimore it looked like his delivery was a little worse and he gave up the homer (to Gunnar Henderson). But he came off the field fine and never complained about it.”

But when Jimenez got up to stretch in the fifth inning Friday, on a cool night in Chicago, his back locked up.

“As we talked after the game, just shutting down his year made sense given that it was going to be a minimum of seven to 10 days,” Hinch said. “He had an incredible year and we’ll get him healthy and get him right. The timing of the calendar made it impossible for us to hold on to him.”

Jimenez, who struggled so badly at the beginning of last season that he didn’t make the active roster out of spring training, posted career-bests in ERA (3.49), WHIP (1.094), strikeout rate (33%) and walk rate (5.6%).

He limited hitters to a .226 batting average with a 30% swing-and-miss rate and a 33% chase rate.

“He’s an emotional man who has done everything as a Tiger, from good to bad and everything in between,” Hinch said. “He’s been an All-Star, he’s been on the outside looking in and he’s been optioned. But he’s a fighter and he’s come back to earn another opportunity.

“I don’t want to say he reinvented himself, but he re-established himself as a viable, plus reliever.”

Jimenez had gone 10 straight outings without allowing a run before giving up a pair of runs in his last two outings. It’s ironic, too, that he gave up a home run in his last outing of the season. It was one of just four he allowed in 56.2 innings — a career-best 1.7% homer rate.

“Coming into the year, he probably didn’t expect to be pitching in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but he did all those,” Hinch said. “I like that he took ownership of his career and he took ownership of his deficiencies and attacked them. He was getting swing-and-miss in the strike zone and swing-and-miss outside the strike zone. That combination is very important for a late-inning reliever and he was very consistent about it.”

Typically, Jimenez wasn’t much interested in talking about his accomplishments.

“You always try to do the best you can to help the team,” he said. “But it wasn’t the best season for us as a team. So I don’t feel happy or anything because we didn’t accomplish what we came to spring training to do.

“We has a group have a lot of work to do for next year. Everybody has to be ready for that first day because it’s going to be a big spring training for us.”

Jimenez said he doesn’t think surgery will be required and he doesn’t think this injury will impact his offseason training.

“I’m going to do everything I can to come back to spring training 100%,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be something I’m going to have to worry about for the future. Just right now I feel I have to take the time to get better and do all I can to get back.”

The Tigers called up right-handed reliever Angel De Jesus to fill Jimenez’s spot on the roster. Hinch said Will Vest and Jose Cisnero will likely get more late-inning work with Jimenez out.

Twitter@cmccosky

Tigers at White Sox

First pitch: 2:10 p.m. Sunday, Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago

TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit, 97.1.

Scouting report

LHP Tyler Alexander (4-10, 4.91), Tigers: He’s coming off arguably the best start of his career, blanking the Orioles on two hits over seven innings. He took a no-hitter into the seventh. His fastball command was precise and he was able to sequence his change-ups and cutters much more effectively. Last time he faced the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate (Aug. 14), AJ Pollock ruined his day with a double and homer.

RHP Dylan Cease (14-7, 2.13), White Sox: The Tigers can certainly vouch for his Cy Young credentials. He’s 10-1 with a 1.87 ERA against them and has allowed just two earned runs with 24 strikeouts in three starts this season. He leads A.L. pitchers with six runs above replacement, he’s second to Justin Verlander in ERA (2.13) and second to Gerrit Cole with 217 strikeouts.

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