Tigers' JaCoby Jones on the mend and seeking restitution (from pitchers)
Detroit – He raised his left hand to the Zoom camera, showing two surgical scars, maybe two inches apart, one on his wrist bone, the other on the outside of his hand – poignant reminders of how his last two seasons ended.
“I guess I have to do a better job of getting out of the way,” Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones laughed Wednesday.
It was good to see him laughing again. The last image we got of Jones was him walking alone, visibly dejected, out of Miller Park in Milwaukee on Sept. 1. Earlier that night, a 90-mph fastball from Brewers rookie reliever Phil Bickford broke a bone in his left hand.
What a cruel day this was for Jones and for the Tigers. They ended up pounding the Brewers 12-1, raising their record to 17-16. They were just a half-game out of a wild-card spot. Before the game, Jones had talked about how fired up he was to finally be playing meaningful games in September.
The Tigers went 6-19 the rest of the way.
“It just sucked,” he said. “The same thing happened in 2019. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I was pissed and I just wanted to get away. It’s really kind of sad to be sitting in the dugout and not being able to do anything. We were right in it. I was super excited and a couple hours later I broke my hand.”
It was a 95-mph fastball from the Royals Jorge Lopez that broke his wrist and ended his 2019 season in early August. In 2017, Jones missed a month after being hit in the face by a 90-mph fastball from the Twins' Justin Haley.
You can see how getting hit with baseballs has long ceased to be amusing to him.
“I just hate getting hit,” he said. “But it’s part of the game. I guess pitchers like to throw inside to me and not let me get my hands extended.”
That’s exactly it. Jones has been blessed with the hands of a boxer – strong and swift. Those fast hands were actually a detriment to him early in his career. Unable to harness the speed, he flailed and flailed. Pitchers didn’t have to throw him strikes to get him out.
But at some point in 2019, Tigers director of player personnel Scott Bream suggested that Jones rest the bat on his shoulders until the pitcher starts his motion. That seemed to calm him down in the box. Instead of being mechanical and robotic, he started being more fluid and athletic.
He was hitting .173 on May 24 that year. After the change, he slashed .271/.500/.844 the rest of the season.
“I would change my stance every couple of weeks just to see if I could figure something out,” Jones said. “But ever since I moved my hands lower and settled in, it just gave me more confidence. I’m just trying to build on that.”
Jones’ chase rate has dropped every year since 2018, down to a career-low 26.3 percent last year, though it was only a 30-game sample. He was crushing fastballs at a .364 clip before one clipped him and ended his season.
It leaves you wondering what Jones might do if he could play a full, 600-at-bat season.
“I’m definitely going to have some type of protective gear on my left arm,” he said. “Some kind of plate or something that I’m going to make. We will figure it out during spring.”
The good news is, Jones has been working out and taking swings since the beginning of November and everything feels normal. The surgeries seemingly haven't robbed him of any strength or speed.
“It hasn’t changed a bit,” he said. “I feel the same. The strength (in his hand and wrist) is still there. The swing speed is still there. I have a (batting) machine at my house and I’ve been getting reps and swings and it feels fine to me.”
The scars on his hand and wrist may be visible, but there’s no way of knowing if there are any scars on his psyche. He will figure that out when he starts facing live pitching again. Knowing Jones, though, seeing how he’s reacted to getting hit in the past, you know his instinct is to get up and hit back, not cower.
“You hate getting hit and anytime you do get hit you want to make the pitcher pay for that,” he said. “But I can't go charge the mound every time and kick someone’s (butt), so I’ll just have to get back in the box and make them pay with my bat.”