First-year Braves reliever Joe Jiménez underwent surgery to correct a lumbar spine strain this offseason, tweets David O’Brien of the Athletic. The right-hander is already throwing in spring camp, and O’Brien indicates he’s still expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Jiménez is coming off the best season of his career. He threw 56 2/3 innings of 3.49 ERA ball while striking out a third of opposing hitters on a 14.5% swinging strike rate. That was the highest strikeout percentage of his five-plus big league campaigns, but the Puerto Rican-born hurler has always had a knack for missing bats. The bigger development was Jiménez trimming his walk rate to a tidy 5.6% clip, easily his best mark in a 162-game schedule.
Thanks in part to his strong performance, the Tigers had a quality bullpen that represented the only bright spot on an otherwise dismal 2022 club. Jiménez’s season was cut a little short by the back issue, however, as he landed on the injured list on September 24 and missed the season’s final two weeks. The issue was apparently serious enough he had to go under the knife, though O’Brien characterizes the procedure as relatively non-invasive.
Clearly, the Braves aren’t much concerned about the status of Jiménez’s back. Atlanta parted with outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, one of the better prospects in their farm system, to acquire the hard-throwing reliever at the end of the Winter Meetings. Jiménez is in the middle to late innings as part of what should be an excellent bullpen. Raisel Iglesias is lined up to close, with A.J. Minter, Kirby Yates, Collin McHugh and Dylan Lee among the possible setup options alongside Jiménez.
The 2023 campaign will be a crucial one for the 28-year-old hurler personally. Jiménez is headed to free agency for the first time in his career next offseason. He’ll hit the market as one of the younger relievers available and if he can replicate his 2022 production, he’d be one of the most coveted late-game arms.