Preview: Twins at Tigers
DETROIT — With little to play for except making progress, the Detroit Tigers are going to take the cautious road with rookie right-handed All-Star Joe Jimenez.
The beefy closer-to-be won’t be handed the ninth-inning role — at least while right-hander Shane Greene remains on the team.
“Our thoughts are to back off rather than putting more pressure on him,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said of the setup man before Saturday’s game with Minnesota. “He’s doing fine (as he is).
“He’s already reaching highs in his number of innings and number of pitches. We’re going to be careful with him.”
Jimenez pitched a three-batter eighth inning Friday night against the Twins and Gardenhire noted it was comparable to a save appearance in that he faced the third, fourth and fifth hitters in the Minnesota batting order.
Jimenez didn’t pitch Saturday, but will be available Sunday.
There have been few bright spots for Detroit this season, but Jimenez is one of them. After a sparkling minor league career, the right-hander was brought up for some cameos last season and flamed out in most of them. He was 0-2 with a 12.32 ERA in 24 games.
Jimenez spent the offseason at Detroit’s Lakeland, Fla., spring training base working on his diet, conditioning and pitching mechanics.
His fastball lost a few mph from triple digits, but it got some bite in the mid-90s, and he sharpened his slider and started tinkering with a changeup. He’s 4-2 with a 3.28 ERA in 53 games and is two outs shy of 50 innings.
Minnesota has closer problems after trading Fernando Rodney. Trevor Hildenberger got the first shot at closing a game Saturday night and was wobbly, although he protected the Twins’ 4-3 victory over the Tigers.
Hildenberger walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a two-run homer and a single before setting down the next three batters, the last two of whom are struggling rookies.
Detroit will retire the No. 47 worn by newly inducted Hall of Fame right-hander Jack Morris on Sunday and that will be followed by left-hander Matthew Boyd (6-10, 4.33 ERA) making his 23rd start of the season for the Tigers.
Boyd has started in each of Detroit’s previous two series with Minnesota, going 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA in nine innings. In Boyd’s career, he has faced the Twins 13 times, going 5-3 with a 3.98 ERA.
Twins right-hander Kohl Stewart will make his major league debut when he throws his first pitch to Detroit’s leadoff hitter.
Stewart was taken fourth overall by Minnesota in the 2013 draft out of high school after right-hander Mark Appel (Houston), infielder Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs) and right-hander Jon Gray (Colorado).
Stewart has struggled since getting draft, but in his last five starts for Triple-A Rochester, Stewart posted a 2.37 ERA with nine walks and 19 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. Stewart had a 3-7 record and 4.47 ERA in 21 games (19 starts) between Double-A and Triple-A.
The Twins are looking to the future to see whether Stewart can play a role as the need for solid starters remains great.
That thought process irked right-handed starter Ervin Santana, who gave up but four hits (after a scoring change announced Saturday) in six innings, but two were two-run homers in Detroit’s 5-3 victory. He may have been irked by Minnesota dealing Rodney.
“It’s tough, especially when we’re only 10 games out and we have two months left,” Santana said. “Everybody’s like, ‘They gave up.’ We’re not giving up, but they did. They took our pieces away, and it’s difficult to play without our good pieces. You know what I mean? So we just have to play with what we have and try to win games.”
Santana could be vulnerable although coming off a bad spring finger injury, he is pitching with a fastball that barely touches 90 mph. He’s relying on off-speed stuff but needs perhaps a tad more separation from his fastball.
Minnesota has dealt a half-dozen players, but there’s an element of getting something in return for players who might leave after the season anyway.
“I don’t know because we don’t have control over that,” Santana said of being dealt. “We’re just here. We play one day at a time, so anything can happen.”
Minnesota expects to have center fielder Byron Buxton, out since May 30 because of a left big toe fracture, available to play Tuesday against Pittsburgh.
Detroit left-hander Daniel Norris, who had surgery on his left groin in early May, began a rehab assignment Friday with the club’s Gulf Coast East rookie league team.