Jimenez's stuff, demeanor impress V-Mart

Righty prospect faces five-time All-Star catcher in live BP session

Jimenez's stuff, demeanor impress V-Mart

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joe Jimenez has been waiting to face Major League competition since last summer. The Tigers' closer of the future's first look Monday included Victor Martinez, who made his big league debut in 2002 -- when Jimenez was seven years old.

It wasn't a game setting, just pitchers throwing to hitters in Spring Training

Jimenez wasn't intimidated by the showdown with a five-time All-Star. Martinez wasn't intimidated by Jimenez's power fastball. They both came away with something. Joined by catcher Alex Avila, they talked following the session, and Martinez gave Jimenez his observations on what he saw from his pitches.

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"I think he has a great arm, a good changeup," Martinez said. "He might need to work a little more on his slider. But the kid has the talent.

"The thing is, he's not just throwing live BP or something. You have to execute. I've seen it before; guys that throw 100 get hit around pretty hard. The thing is, when he goes out there and executes his pitches, if he does that, he's going to be a great, great help for our bullpen."

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The ability to not only throw different pitches, but know how to use them, was what impressed Avila.

"Usually guys who throw that hard are just slinging it," Avila said. "He's got a good idea of how to be able to locate that. Same with his changeup. His changeup is a plus pitch. His slider is what he's been working on. It's still a good pitch, but not as consistent as the other ones.

"What's good about him is he asks the right questions. He's willing to learn, and he's able to apply."

Rondon works on changeup

The last hard-throwing Tigers relief prospect has a project, too. While Bruce Rondon found long-awaited success last year with a mix of fastball and slider, he's working on his changeup this spring.

Rondon threw changeups on his way through the farm system with encouragement from coaches, but it has become a rarely-used pitch for him in the Majors. Just over 10 percent of his pitches were changeups as a rookie in 2013, 6.4 percent in 2015, then just 3.4 percent last year, according to Fangraphs. His slider usage has gone up in turn.

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"The changeup is so-so," he said. "The slider is really good for me."

If Rondon can hone the changeup, he would have a three-pitch arsenal that includes a power fastball. He's getting tips from Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez, who transitioned from a power pitcher to a changeup artist a few years ago.

Manager Brad Ausmus said the changeup could be an effective pitch for him against left-handed hitters, who already struggle to hit him. They were just 11-for-69 (.159) off him last year with no extra-base hits and 24 strikeouts.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.