This hardly rates as a surprise. Gardenhire had already made clear he viewed Jimenez as the top ninth-inning option heading into camp (as The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen tweeted late last year).
Still, the confirmation of Jimenez’s role is worthy of note as it wasn’t fully assured when camp opened. Jimenez, 25, has a dozen saves under his belt but hardly entered spring training with a lengthy history of locking down victories. After four scoreless appearances, Jimenez remains on track for the gig.
More importantly, the decision is critical to Jimenez’s contractual future. He’s readying for a key platform season. Reliever arbitration salaries are highly dependent upon saves, so the opportunity to accrue them from the jump promises to boost his earning power substantially.
It’s possible to imagine some different outcomes for Jimenez’s future. The Tigers could consider approaching him about an extension or offer him up in a midseason trade.
Jimenez was reportedly of interest to contending teams at last year’s trade deadline. While he ended the season with a 4.37 ERA, his second-straight campaign in that ballpark, Jimenez racked up a hefty 12.4 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 while delivering a 14.8 percent swinging-strike rate.
If he can make a few tweaks — such as limiting the long ball (nearly two per nine in 2019) — Jimenez could emerge as a dominant late-inning reliever.