Live and learn: After countless adjustments, Tigers' Jones has his groove back

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Atlanta — It’s a hard thing to explain, but it wasn’t necessarily the act of failing that hurt.

For JaCoby Jones, the frustration came from being unable to do things he knew he was fully capable of doing. Even at the lowest point, when he was in a 4-for-38 funk with 19 strikeouts and hitting .138, he wasn’t so much feeling despair — he was just confused.

JaCoby Jones went into Sunday riding an eight-game hitting streak — .433/.485/.700, with an OPS of 1.185.

“I know the type of athlete I am and I know the type of player I can be,” Jones said before Sunday's game. “The only thing that was frustrating at times was knowing I wasn’t helping the team offensively and I wasn’t doing what I can do.

“All you can do is stay positive. Look where I am now compared to where I was.”

Indeed. He was hitting .138 on May 4. Four weeks later, after two hits Sunday, his average is up to .236. In that 27-game span, he hit .302, with a .386 on-base average, slugging close to .600.

He went into Sunday riding an eight-game hitting streak — .433/.485/.700, with an OPS of 1.185.

“I had confidence in myself,” said Jones, who extended the hitting streak to nine with a double in the fifth and a game-tying home run in the eighth inning. “No matter what the results were, I knew I could come out of it and do this. Just keep believing. It’s a huge turnaround from where I was.”

Nobody, certainly not Jones, is suggesting that he’s got it all figured out. It’s one good month. But, it allowed the Tigers front office to let out a huge sigh of relief. They are hoping Jones can be one of the centerpieces of this rebuild.

“I think that’s accurate,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We have some pretty good defensive outfielders in our system, too. But if you keep JaCoby there, you can surround him with some of those other guys, and that’s pretty good.

“And for JaCoby, you want to make it hard for them to move you. That’s what you want to do when you are in the big leagues — make them forget about the prospects.”

Gardenhire was asked if it ever got to the point where he thought Jones would never figure it out at the plate.

“No,” he said. “You saw flashes of it and you knew there was a swing in there. The search was finding what would work for him and getting into his head — more contact. Cut down the strikeouts. To do that, he had to calm everything down and keep his mechanics as short as he possibly can.

“That’s kind of what he’s done.”

Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon tried several techniques to get Jones to be calmer with his lightning-quick hands. Finally, after watching hours of video of right-handed hitters who had overcome similar issues, he convinced Jones to lay the bat on his shoulders before he went into his approach.

“Ever since I’ve been doing that, I’ve squared up a lot more balls, laid off more pitches and I’m seeing the ball better,” Jones said. “The results have been there. I just want to keep doing it. I feel like my positioning (in the box) has always been the same.

“Just the new start-up has helped me. It’s taken some of the motion out of my hands, helped me keep my hands still a little more.”

Jones used have a lot of waggle in his set-up. Now he’s more still, the only movement is when he throws his hands at the ball. That helps keep his head still, too, which is why his plate discipline has improved.

“You eliminate all that hand waving and bat swinging and all the motion of diving to the ball and you just stay short to the ball,” Gardenhire said. “He’s covering the ball better and trying to put it in play better.”

Jones has tried countless fixes over the last couple of years. You never know what’s going to stick.

“You just live and learn,” Jones said. “You just keep improving.”

Conviction is part of the equation, too. You need to commit to the changes. Having success right away certainly helps bolster conviction.

“Not by a long stretch are we saying he’s turned the corner,” Gardenhire said. “I just know we like what we see. I know he’s bought into what Lloyd and those guys have talked about. And that’s key — the player has to take it. He has to want to do it.

“He’s taken to it and he’s getting more and more comfortable with it. But there is a process here. He’s not out of the woods by any means.” @cmccosky