Detroit — He was standing at the back of the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, watching his teammates play ping-pong. He was flipping a football with his right hand, his left still bearing the cast from the fractured wrist that ended his season Aug. 9.
The last time JaCoby Jones was in the clubhouse, he wore a pained expression and walked briskly past a group of reporters, not ready to express his frustration about the abrupt ending to what had been the most promising season of his young career.
“I was pissed off,” Jones said. “I was aggravated because I wanted to play. We still had a lot of season left, lot of games where I could’ve done a lot of great things. I lost the whole month of August just about, and September — lot of games.
“I just want to play and I was mad about it.”
Jones was hit in the left wrist by a 96-mph fastball from Royals pitcher Jorge Lopez. The fracture was revealed in a CT scan two days later.
“I was playing and enjoying it,” Jones said. “I mean, accidents happen in baseball. This was a freak accident. I didn’t know it was going to be fractured. I thought I’d be back in a couple of days. But it still hurt. It just sucks.
“But I will be ready for next year.”
Jones said he expects the cast to come off on Sept. 20 and he plans on going through his normal offseason regimen.
“I just have to build (the arm) back up and get the strength back in it,” Jones said. “Then I will be able to train like I always do, just try to get stronger and faster.”
Jones' offensive surge from the end of May through July most likely solidified his standing as the Tigers’ regular center fielder for 2020.
He was hitting .172 on May 23 when he altered his stance and set-up at the plate, leaving the bat on his shoulder a little longer to calm his lightning-quick hands. Once he got comfortable, he went on a 36-game tear, hitting .320 with a .586 slugging percentage and a .960 OPS.
He cooled off some in July, but he gave the organization a long enough glimpse at the dynamic offensive player he can be.
“I feel really good about what I did, as far as hitting,” Jones said. “I know I was struggling, but once I made that adjustment I felt really good in the box, really comfortable. I was having fun playing and I want to keep it going this offseason — I want to work and get better with that.”
Jones was in the dugout for the Tigers' thrilling 12-11 win over the Yankees Tuesday.
“That was one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “Down 6-0, and then having that six-run inning — that was so much fun to watch. But watching it, you want to be out there so bad.”
Stretching it out
Credit Tigers’ right-hander Zac Reininger for being proactive.
In July, after being optioned to Triple-A Toledo for a second time, he approached Mud Hens’ pitching coach Juan Nieves about a role change. Since he was drafted in the eighth round in 2013, the Tigers have used Reininger in short relief.
But the impressive results through his ascent through the system hadn’t translated at the big-league level.
“We were down a couple of starters down there and I just told Juan, ‘Let me start.’ I think that could help me in the long run. Even if I’m up here in the bullpen, I can be a long guy or a short guy. I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
It may have been just the right tonic. He made two five-inning starts for the Mud Hens, allowed just two runs with eight strikeouts.
“It felt good,” he said. “I think it helps me get a feel for all my pitches. Rather than go out for an inning and just try to spot everything up, you just go out and throw. You are going longer so you can use all your pitchers.”
In short relief, Reininger used primarily his four-seam fastball and cutter-slider hybrid. Since he’s been stretched out, he’s using his two-seam sinker more. And, most significantly, he has added a change-up to his mix.
“Finally, after 20 years of trying to throw it, I finally found a grip that I really like,” he said. “I’ve been able to throw it up here (mostly in his 2.1-inning stint in Oakland) and I’ve thrown a few good ones. My sinker is starting to work better and now I’m working on my curve ball and cutter, trying to get those away and down.”
The Tigers clearly see something in Reininger. Which is why they keep bringing him up despite the gaudy 8.00 ERA and 1.9 WHIP over parts of the last three seasons.
“The one thing you do with a guy who keeps coming up here and not having success is you maybe stretch him out and let him face more hitters,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s the one thing that happens when you stretch a guy out, they get to pitch more, face more hitters and maybe they can get a better feel for their pitches.”
Around the horn
The Tigers have named No. 2-rated prospect Matt Manning as the minor league pitcher of the year for 2019. The 21-year-old Manning was 11-5 with a 2.56 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 133.2 innings at Double-A Erie. Manning was also named the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Year.
… Shortstop Willi Castro and third baseman Isaac Parades were the co-winners of the club’s minor-league player of the year honors. Castro, who was called up to the Tigers on Aug. 25, hit .301 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs in 119 games at Triple-A Toledo. Parades, 20, hit .282 with 13 homers and 66 RBIs at Double-A Erie.
… The 12-11 win Tuesday was the Tigers’ 26th come-from-behind win. That’s more than half their win total (43).
… Miguel Cabrera missed by inches his 476th career home run Tuesday night. He drilled one high off the wall in right-center field, an RBI single in the six-run third inning. Tigers quality control coach Joe Vavra looked hard at all the replay angles but never found one that conclusively showed the ball hitting above the yellow padding at the top of the wall.
“Then we looked up on the big screen and it showed that it hit (several inches) below that yellow line,” Gardenhire said. “It was plain as day.”
Yankees at Tigers
First pitch: Game 1 — 1:10 p.m.; Game 2 — 4:40 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit
►LHP J.A. Happ (12-8, 5.10), Yankees: He hasn’t allowed a run in 15.1 innings, going back three starts. He’s allowed three hits with 19 strikeouts over that stretch. His ERA is the highest it’s been in eight seasons, largely due to the career-most 32 home runs he’s given up.
►LHP Matthew Boyd (8-10, 4.57), Tigers: He has struck out 17 and given up 16 hits in 12.1 innings over his last two starts, both wins. In his lone encounter with the Yankees this season on April 3, he racked up a season-high 13 strikeouts and scattered five hits over 6.1 innings.
►LHP CC Sabathia (5-8, 4.93), Yankees: He's coming off the injured list (knee) to make his first start since Aug. 30. He hasn't pitched more than 4.1 innings over his previous five starts, which have all resulted in a Yankees loss.
►RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-14, 4.68), Tigers: His 14 losses and 14 hit batsmen lead the majors. He didn’t make it out of the second inning in his last start, but when the Tigers came back to beat Oakland, it snapped his streak of 14 straight starts without the team winning, going back to May 31.