The numbers just looked rough. A.J. Jimenez came to Coca-Cola Field on Wednesday afternoon batting below the Mendoza Line, a struggling .194 in 62 at-bats.
He left with a 4-for-4 day at the plate, driving in four runs and scoring two, helping the Buffalo Bisons to a 7-5 win over the Toledo Mud Hens while raising his batting average 48 points in the process.
That’s a pretty good day at the office.
But for the 26-year-old Jimenez, the offense is a bonus. He prides himself on playing well behind the plate and calling a game suitable to his pitcher that day.
“I’ve been known as a defensive catcher,” Jimenez said. “I’ve always paid attention to the hitting but the most important thing in the game is my defense so I take pride in that. … If I had a good game catching and we win the game, I’m happy about it. If I hit and don’t have a really good game catching, it’s like I did nothing. If I catch good, that’s what I’m here to do.”
Jimenez has been solid defensively ever since returning to the Bisons on April 18. He was designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays when the club claimed Jesus Montero off waivers. Jimenez didn’t play for three weeks while the baseball transaction ran its course. He then took a little time in extended spring training before joining the Herd.
While his 18 games as a catcher were spot on, his offense, a constant criticism of his game, was lacking. Jimenez was hitting .148 on May 11. Now he’s on a four-game hitting streak with his average jumping to .242 after Wednesday’s performance.
“I don’t care who you are, if you’re struggling there and you see .150 on the board, you tend to press a little bit,” Bisons manager Gary Allenson said. “But you’ve just got to remember it’s a long season. … What you do is take it one at-bat at a time and not try to get it all back at once.”
And most importantly to Allenson, himself a former catcher, Jimenez did not let his lack of offensive production impact his defensive game.
“He’s done a great job defensively,” Allenson said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in this league quicker than he is blocking balls and tagging somebody out. … He’s done a super job. He’s separated his offense from his defense and now the hitting’s coming around. Obviously for anybody that’s out there, it’s real easy to play hard when you’re getting two, three hits a day. But when thing aren’t going, how do guys play when they’re struggling? I was taught that if you’re not hitting it, and sometimes you’re not, your glove better grow a couple inches. You’ve got to separate that stuff. He’s done that.”
Wednesday may have been the spark Jimenez needed to break out offensively.
In the first and second, he had singles that drove in two runs each. In the fifth, he bounced a ball over the third baseman, who was playing for the bunt, for a leadoff double. He then scored on a single from Junior Lake.
Replay that in the seventh, only with a more definitive double to left field and another run scored off a Lake hit.
“It feels good to get four today,” Jimenez said. When he got to the Bisons, “I thought timing was one of the biggest problems. It seems like I’ve got the timing back and now I’m seeing the ball better and seeing results.
“I don’t think ‘relax’ is the word,” Jimenez said about how he feels in the batter’s box. “I feel confident now hitting. I can help the team win with my offensive part but, like I said, if I catch good, I’m happy about it because if I do a really good job catching, we’re going to win a lot of games.”