Tigers' Jones out for year with fractured hand
The Tigers’ surprise charge into the American League playoff chase will have to continue without their standout center fielder. JaCoby Jones suffered a fractured left hand in Tuesday night's 12-1 win over the Brewers when he was hit by an eighth-inning pitch.
The season-ending injury put an obvious damper on a Tigers clubhouse that should’ve been celebrating a six-game winning streak and a winning record in September for the first time since 2016. Detroit placed Jones on the 10-day injured list before Wednesday night's game, recalling outfielder Derek Hill from the alternate training site in a corresponding move.
“He brings life to the table. He’s been playing really well. It’s unfortunate,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the game.
It’s the second consecutive season Jones has suffered a season-ending hand injury on a hit-by-pitch, and the third time in four years a pitch has caused a major injury and cost him significant time. This one, however, is far tougher. It came just hours after Jones talked enthusiastically about embracing the chance to play meaningful games in September.
“This month is going to be huge,” Jones said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. Every pitch counts, every pitch matters, so I’m excited for it. I’ve been waiting on that for my whole career. It’s going to be a lot of fun for our guys and I’m looking forward to it.”
Jones, whose offensive surge this season shifted him from the ninth spot in the Tigers' batting order into a run-production spot, was batting .268 with five home runs and 14 RBIs this season. He led off the eighth inning Tuesday as the first Major League batter for Brewers reliever and former first-round Draft pick Phil Bickford, whose 1-2 fastball rode up and in off Jones’ hand.
“I feel bad for JaCoby,” Gardenhire said. “He was making strides in his game, becoming a pretty good player. And now we lose him, so that’s too bad.”
Jones’ hand immediately swelled up, and he seemingly knew it was bad as head athletic trainer Doug Teter rushed from the dugout to attend to him. He was clearly frustrated as he walked down the dugout steps and into the clubhouse.
An examination confirmed the fracture, but Gardenhire knew as soon as Jones’ batting glove was removed and he saw the hand.
“It was not a pretty sight,” Gardenhire said. “It was a lot of different colors. He got squared pretty hard with about a 92 mph fastball.”
Travis Demeritte pinch-ran for Jones and stayed in the game in right field. A few pitches later, Bickford hit Tigers left fielder Jorge Bonifacio with a similar pitch, leaving him in pain. He stayed in the game, though, and an examination later confirmed no structural damage.
“You can’t do anything about that, a young kid coming in the game,” Gardenhire said. “We all know how the nerves are. We’ve seen it from our guys. The kid wasn’t trying to throw at anybody, but he was just excited. He threw hard and just got a couple inside and got a couple of our guys, and unfortunately it got JaCoby solid, got him really good.
“You feel for the kid. It is part of the game. Baseball happens.”
Said Tigers starter Michael Fulmer: “I’m sure nerves were a factor, but he did it to a couple guys, and [Jonathan] Schoop got hit in the hand earlier in the game [by Brewers starter Josh Lindblom]. It’s part of baseball, absolutely no intent there. It just stinks seeing a guy get hit like that.
“It’s a tough blow. He’s been the spark plug to this team all year -- his hitting, his defense, his leadership in the dugout. It stinks to lose a guy like that.”
Hill, a former first-round pick whose defensive exploits in center during Summer Camp went viral on social media, is a candidate to see increased playing time with Jones out. Utility man Harold Castro, currently on the injured list with a left hamstring strain, could also join the mix, though Gardenhire said he probably won’t be ready this week.
The Tigers traded away veteran corner outfielder Cameron Maybin to the Cubs on Monday for infield prospect Zack Short. Maybin’s role was dwindling at the time.
Victor Reyes, who made a pair of highlight reel catches in center field Saturday, moved from right to center.
Expect that to be the alignment going forward.
“Reyes definitely goes to center,” Gardenhire said. “Demeritte probably will be out there in right. We can mix and match with [Christin Stewart] and Bonifacio in left. We’ve got a lot going on, a lot of things happening.”