LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Don’t tell JaCoby Jones that Spring Training results don’t matter.
“It gives you a lot more confidence when you're running down to first base and the ball don't get caught,” he said.
As Jones rounded first base Wednesday afternoon and saw his fourth-inning drive hit Champion Stadium’s scoreboard above left-center field, he had a well-needed bit of confidence. It wasn’t just the home run -- his first of the spring -- but the two-strike pitches he fouled off to get to it.
Jones came to Spring Training hoping to cut down on his strikeouts. He has had strong Grapefruit League campaigns in the past, including one last year to crack the Opening Day roster, but he has yet to finish with more hits than strikeouts in a season.
Jones entered the day batting just 2-for-16 this spring, including some quick outs on pitches outside his zone. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon instructed him to take some more pitches, even if it put him in more two-strike counts.
“He just told me to see some pitches and battle and get in your rhythm and get locked in on seeing pitches,” Jones said.
That mindset was more ingrained when Jones led off the fourth inning against veteran reliever Arodys Vizcaino, following a four-run third for the Braves.
“I knew we had a long end that inning before, so I had to take pitches,” Jones said. “Took a fastball right down the middle. He came up with another one up and in and it was called a strike, so I was like, ‘Ugh, 0-2.’ So I was being athletic, trying to find a way on base, fouled off some tough pitches and he threw me one kind of middle-in that I just kind of reacted to.”
Jones did it again his third at-bat, shrugging off some good breaking balls before lashing a single. With that, he had doubled his hit total for the spring.
“It’s a work in progress,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He has to keep doing that and stay on the ball, and think middle of the plate, and he’ll hit the ball out like that once in a while. He’s been getting himself out by just kind of rushing through at-bats. You have to have confidence that you can get to two strikes and fight through it.
“He’s working on it. It’s not pretty so far, but we’ve got plenty of time here. Today was a good day.”
Ross tries to pivot
The last time Tyson Ross took the mound, he walked three consecutive batters and threw three wild pitches, finishing with just 18 out of 41 pitches for strikes. So, he entered Wednesday’s start against the Braves looking to pound the strike zone.
Ross threw strikes, but he was pounded on a big pitch to Freddie Freeman, leaving him with another costly inning. But he’ll take it as progress.
“I'm just trying to work on things one step at a time,” Ross said, “and today was [to] get your tempo right and throw some competitive pitches through the strike zone.”
After scattering two singles and a walk over the first two innings, Ross hit Ronald Acuna Jr. with his second pitch of the third. Three pitches and two line-drive singles later, Ross had the bases loaded and Freeman at the plate. Freeman hit a 1-0 fastball out.
Ross hit another batter and allowed a two-strike single before ending the inning with a Tyler Flowers flyout. All nine Braves batters stepped to the plate in the inning, but Ross threw just 24 pitches in the inning.
“The only pitch that I really want back is the one that landed over the fence,” Ross said. “Other than that, I felt like my direction was a lot better, tempo was better today, had a few sliders that felt pretty good coming out of my hand. Another step in the right direction for me. The numbers get erased in three weeks, so I'm not too worried about that aspect of things.”
Tigers sign Motter
The Tigers have signed former Mariners and Twins infielder Taylor Motter to a Minor League contract as they add organizational depth.
The 29-year-old Motter worked out for the Tigers earlier this month. He served as a super-utility player in Seattle in 2017, racking up 280 plate appearances over 92 games, before making brief stints with the M’s and Twins last year.
Motter went 5-for-34 with a home run and two RBIs in 16 big-league games last season. He’s a career .191 hitter in the Majors, with 10 homers, 37 RBIs and a .575 OPS.
Outfielder Jacob Robson, the Tigers’ 17th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has been sidelined this week with right hip soreness. Robson said the move is precautionary to avoid letting the injury linger into the season. The speedy 24-year-old, who split last season between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, is expected to return to the Mud Hens to open the season.
The Tigers will likely put their regulars back in action in Lakeland on Thursday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium. Jordan Zimmermann will make his third start of the spring. Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer have missed the last couple days, but they could play Thursday.