Tigers won't rush Jimenez to Majors

Prospect has crisp fastball, but other pitches need honing

Tigers won't rush Jimenez to Majors

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Jimenez showed his capability of shutting down a rally Monday, striking out three consecutive batters after the Braves put three runners on against him to begin the ninth inning. It was a glimpse of what Tigers fans hope to see soon at the back end of Detroit's bullpen.

It could happen sooner rather than later. For Jimenez, it remains unlikely to happen on Opening Day.

"Truthfully, he's a long shot for Opening Day," manager Brad Ausmus reiterated Tuesday morning. "An extreme long shot."

Ausmus' remarks echo others from throughout the Tigers' organization, including general manager Al Avila. They want to give Jimenez, who was signed as a non-drafted free agent on June 24, 2013, and is ranked the club's No. 5 prospect by MLBPipeline, a chance to fight for a spot.

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It's not about Jimenez, 22, being blocked by others in the Tigers' bullpen, and never has been. It's about what club officials see as developmental steps he has left to do before they think he's ready.

Monday showed both the vast potential and the final touches left. Jimenez took a few batters to shore up his location, though the lone hit he allowed -- an RBI triple -- was a fly ball that right fielder Alex Presley lost in the late-afternoon sun. Jimenez walked the leadoff batter before that and hit the next with a nasty pitch that darted in and at the feet to a left-handed hitter.

From there, Jimenez settled in and shut down any hint of Atlanta erasing the Tigers' 10-7 lead. He didn't just blow away hitters with fastballs. Jimenez located, and he deceived them with a slider and changeup that have been a point of emphasis.

"We think the fastball plays now," Ausmus said of Jimenez's upper-90s heater. "It's the secondary [pitches] that he's honing and working on."

The stuff remains raw, but as a scout who watched Monday's game put it, "He has an extra gear when he wants it."

Those last three batters saw the extra gear. That's the gift of a closer's mentality, something Jimenez has been able to hone at every step up the Tigers' farm system.

"It used to be you became a closer after starting in the Minor Leagues," Ausmus said. "Now, more and more organizations are actually having pitchers close all the way up the Minor League ladder. Then they get to the big leagues and they relieve until teams think they're ready to close."

The one closer to come out of the Tigers' organization since 2002 is Fernando Rodney, who had 50 Minor League saves before his first protracted stint as club's closer in 2005. Bruce Rondon, the last prospect to be labeled Detroit's closer of the future, has 89 Minor League saves -- 29 of them at three different levels in 2012 before he went into Spring Training as a potential replacement for Jose Valverde.

Jimenez put up 30 saves at the same three levels last year. For now, the Tigers are trying to heed lessons they learned when they rushed Rondon in 2013.

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.