Detroit Tigers’ Joe Jiménez had ‘best year of my career’ but wants to succeed as team

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers right-hander reliever Joe Jiménez won’t pitch again this season.

On Friday, the 27-year-old realized he couldn’t compete through the pain any longer. The Tigers placed Jiménez on the 15-day injured list Saturday with a right lumbar spine strain, ending his career-best campaign.

“I was doing everything that I could to stay in the game and finish the season,” Jiménez said Tuesday. “In Chicago, something came up. It wasn’t feeling the same. I didn’t want to put the team in a bad position. I said something.”

Pain in his back emerged at the end of August.

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“I was feeling a little weird,” Jiménez said.

He managed the issue by throwing 9⅓ consecutive scoreless innings, from Aug. 19 through Sept. 14, allowing two walks and recording 14 strikeouts. He dropped his ERA to 2.95, then allowed four runs over 1⅔ innings in his final two outings.

Jiménez finished this season with a 3.49 ERA, 13 walks and 77 strikeouts over 56⅔ innings across 62 games. He posted a career-bests in walk rate (5.6%), strikeout rate (33.3%) and several other categories. His fastball and slider were above-average pitches, enhanced by pounding the strike zone.

But Jiménez wasn’t satisfied.

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“This is the best year of my career, by numbers,” he said. “But it doesn’t feel good when your team doesn’t win. It’s not my thing to be about personal accomplishments. It doesn’t feel right yet. When we win, that’s when it’s going to feel good.”

Jiménez, whose 1.4 fWAR ranks 19th among 155 qualified relievers and first in the Tigers’ bullpen, hasn’t been on the injured list (other than for a positive COVID-19 test last season) since May 2017, when he was considered the Tigers’ top reliever prospect. He missed five weeks of game action due to a lower back strain.

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He does not expect to need surgery for this latest injury and plans to be ready for spring training in February.

“We’re just waiting for the results,” Jiménez said. “I don’t think it’s going to be something that is going to keep me off the field in the future. I’m just going to do everything that I can to get ready for spring training, and I will be 100% at that time.”

On a roll

The Tigers have won five of their past six games.

They outscored the Baltimore Orioles, 15-10, in three games at Camden Yards last week before doing the same to the Chicago White Sox, 16-6, in a three-game weekend sweep at Guaranteed Rate Field. Entering Tuesday, the Orioles are 3½ games out of the AL’s third wild-card spot. The White Sox, meanwhile, are 7½ games back.

“I thought we played very well, and how we went about it was encouraging,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “We certainly controlled the strike zone a lot better and found different ways to win. We had a lot of guys step up and play well. Two teams that were still in contention, to some extent, and playing for something, it was nice to stand up and make it tougher for them.”

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The Tigers swung outside the strike zone at a whopping 39% clip — ranking 30th in MLB — during the six-game road trip. Spanning the entire season, the Tigers have an MLB-worst 36.6% chase rate.

In the past week, though, the Tigers’ contact rate, at 78.4%, ranks sixth in the big leagues, behind the New York Mets (82.7%), Cleveland Guardians (82.2%), Houston Astros (81%), Miami Marlins (79.7%) and Orioles (78.7%). For the Tigers, that’s much better than their season-long 75% contact rate, which comes in at 26th overall.

“There’s always going to be some chase,” catcher Eric Haase said. “What guys are doing with the baseball now, a little bit outside the strike zone isn’t that big of a deal. But when we make them come back in the zone, we’re not fouling off those pitches. Putting the ball in play has been huge for us.”

The new boss

Before Tuesday’s game, president of baseball operations Scott Harris — who is evaluating the organization as a whole and didn’t travel with the team to Baltimore or Chicago — popped into the clubhouse to meet the players for the first time. Hinch introduced Harris to the group; individualized conversations haven’t happened yet.

“The best way to impress a new boss is to play well,” Hinch said.

Harris, who emphasizes domination of the strike zone on offense and defense, was hired Sept. 19 but doesn’t take control of day-to-day operations until Oct. 6.

“He’s coming in with a good mentality,” Jiménez said. “That’s going to be good for us.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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