Gardenhire expects JaCoby Jones to come to camp as Tigers starting CF next spring

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
JaCoby Jones is expected to remain the Tigers' regular center fielder in 2020, even though an injury has ended this season early.

Detroit — As far as Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire is concerned, JaCoby Jones will be the Tigers' everyday center fielder going forward.

“He’s our center fielder; I thought he did enough,” Gardenhire said Tuesday. “I would’ve liked to see him finish off the season and see if he could’ve found his swing again at the end here.”

A fractured ulna bone in his left wrist ended his season after he played just 88 games.

“It opens it up for some of the other kids to come in here and get a look, too, and that’s not a bad thing,” Gardenhire said. “But I plan on Jonesy being our center fielder to start spring training.”

Niko Goodrum — who got the start in center Tuesday — Victor Reyes and Harold Castro have been rotating through the position since Jones has been out. But come September, prospect Daz Cameron is expected to get an extended audition.

“Somebody is going to have to come and knock him out of there,” Gardenhire said. “It is unfortunate that he got hurt, but we’ve got outfielders who are coming. That’s why I said he needed to cut down on his strikeouts and have more consistent at-bats.

“Because there’s other people here to take your place. That’s what baseball does. There’s always someone coming to take your place, so you have to maintain.”

Gardenhire said he had that discussion with Jones when the club was in Philadelphia at the end of April.

“We sat down in my office and talked about making adjustments, shortening your swing and putting the ball in play more,” he said. “Getting more hard contact, hitting it on the ground and using your speed. And he seemed to find something. He went on a really good stretch.”

He gradually raised his average from .137 to .252 by July 21 and started to regain his power stroke. But he had cooled off considerably the last couple of weeks before taking a 96-mph fastball on the wrist.

“But we found something we liked, and he seemed to like it, too,” Gardenhire said. “He just got out of whack at the end.”

About the defense

The metrics say Jones regressed dramatically in the outfield. He had a major-league best plus-21 defensive runs saved in 2018, saving 11 of those runs while playing left field. This year, he was a minus-13 playing exclusively in center field.

According to Statcast data, he went from plus-7 last year to plus-1 this year.

But, Gardenhire said, there were mitigating circumstances — namely, the Tigers' struggles when playing in an over-shifted defensive alignment.

“My theory on that is a little bit different,” he said. “With so many different pitchers that we used up here, we didn’t locate the ball. You play to a shift and plan on pitching a certain way. And they misfire and the ball is out over the plate.

“We’re playing the guy to pull and we’re trying to get him to pull and the ball starts going the opposite way. You can’t expect him to run 80 yards every time he catches a fly ball.”

Statcast metrics also show, though, that Jones’ first step was slower.

Around the horn

Left-fielder Christin Stewart (concussion) has begun taking batting practice again and is one zero-symptom test from starting his second rehab assignment. Once he does, Gardenhire said he would play five games at Triple-A Toledo before being cleared to come back.

… Third baseman Jeimer Candelario (thumb) has also resumed baseball activity. He expects to begin a rehab assignment soon, as well, though no date has been set.

… Niko Goodrum has been on a run. Over his last 25 games, he is hitting .303/.373/.525 with six doubles, two triples, four home runs and 16 RBIs. @cmccosky