By: Will Burchfield
The one thing that stands out upon meeting Joe Jimenez, aside from his broad shoulders and his streak of blonde hair, is his eagerness to learn. That will serve him well in his first foray into the big leagues, where the Tigers have surrounded him with accomplished teachers.
Manager Brad Ausmus expects Francisco Rodriguez to be a mentor for Jimenez in the bullpen, a role that K-Rod takes to naturally. GM Al Avila sees resources in Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer.
One of the biggest keys for Jimenez in making the transition from Triple-A to the bigs will be the development of his slider. From where he sits in the Tigers clubhouse, Jimenez is just a few lockers away from a guy who throws one of the nastiest sliders in the game.
"We feel that with his fastball and changeup he can get outs, and we'll still be working some on his slider. But we got some guys here, like Verlander, who's created a brand new slider, so we think he can help him out in that sense," Avila said.
With two major league-level pitches and a third that needs work, Jimenez finds himself in the same boat that Fulmer was in a year ago.
"He honestly reminds me a little bit of myself last year," Fulmer said. "Obviously it's a little different being in the bullpen, but I knew he was working on his slider. Last year, I came up here and really only had fastball-slider and was kind of learning a changeup on the fly, learning to actually trust it and throw it."
It didn't take long for Fulmer to master that pitch and emerge as a dominant arm in the Tigers rotation.
"Last year when he came up we made him throw that changeup quite often and it was effective for him," Avila said, "so that's what we're hoping for here (with Jimenez)."
Fulmer might not be able to lend as much technical advice as Verlander when it comes to Jimenez' slider, but the reigning A.L. Rookie of the Year stands as proof that you don't need to be a finished product upon arriving in the big leagues. And he's more than willing to help show Jimenez the way.
"Yeah, for sure. Obviously I don't have the veteran presence that the other guys do, but I'm going to try to help anyway I can," Fulmer said. "Basically tell him to ask questions and look to the veterans guys like I did last year. It's going to help him in the long run, for sure."
Aside from that, Fulmer said, the 22-year-old Jimenez just needs to trust his stuff.
"I've heard nothing but good things about him, and obviously his fastball-changeup combination is gonna play up here. All he needs to do is trust -- trust his catcher, trust his defense and ultimately I know he'll get the job done," said Fulmer.
Jimenez is well aware of the fans' high hopes for him. He carries their expectations to the mound.
"I feel the pressure, a little bit of pressure from the fans," he said. "But I'm just waiting for my time."
Until that time comes - and it's sure to come soon - he'll be hard at work in the classroom, preparing for his biggest test yet.
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