DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire doesn't want JaCoby Jones looking over his shoulder. The Tigers' manager wants his young left fielder looking for a pitch he can belt. Thursday afternoon's go-ahead two-run homer in a 3-1 win over the Twins was a start."Sometimes I think he's just thinking, 'I can't strike
DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire doesn't want JaCoby Jones looking over his shoulder. The Tigers' manager wants his young left fielder looking for a pitch he can belt. Thursday afternoon's go-ahead two-run homer in a 3-1 win over the Twins was a start.
"Sometimes I think he's just thinking, 'I can't strike out this time.' That's negative thoughts," Gardenhire said. "We have to get back to positive thoughts."
Jones went back and forth between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo three times last season amid his hitting struggles. His recent skid brought some flashbacks, but Gardenhire emphasized he doesn't want to put Jones on the I-75 shuttle. With the Tigers focusing on the future, Gardenhire wants Jones to work through his slumps at the big league level.
"He's a really good baseball player. He brings a lot to the table," Gardenhire said. "Yeah, he could get sent down sometime if he went 0-for-150, but I don't think that's gonna happen. And with the energy that he brings, I love the kid. You give him a mental break here and there and take some pressure off of him, but ultimately he's going to have to dig his way out of it, just the way he was going before."
Jones is bringing more than energy when he isn't hitting. His eight Defensive Runs Saved and 4.2 Ultimate Zone Rating entering Thursday placed him ninth among Major League outfielders in both categories, according to Fangraphs. Jones made a nice play Thursday on a James Dozier fly ball that took him to the edge of the warning track with two runners on, helping Michael Fulmer out of a fifth-inning threat.
"Just a mistake slider," Fulmer said. "He hit it well. Luckily, JaCoby's an athlete in left field. He went back and got that ball."
The same energy that Jones brings into the field, however, hurts him at times at the plate, sending him swinging at pitches outside the zone. While strikeouts are a more accepted part of the game in the era of launch angles and home runs, they deny Jones a chance to use his speed and athleticism on the bases.
"I felt like I was just trying so hard to get on base and pressing a little bit," Jones said. "I had to take a deep breath, just swing at good pitches and play your game. But everybody can tell lately I've been pressing and swinging at bad pitches, just trying to do whatever I can to put the bat on the ball, and that's not how you do it, because I've been chasing."
Jones swung and missed for strikeouts in each of his first two at-bats, which put him in a lot of company Thursday. Twins starter Lance Lynn, who tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Tigers last month at Target Field, picked up where he left off, holding Detroit to two singles over the first six innings with a heavy dose of fastballs.
Jones had two of the Tigers' five hits off Lynn on May 22. He had two of Lynn's nine strikeouts Thursday, dropping him to 5-for-36 with 13 strikeouts since June 2. When Jones stepped to the plate in the seventh, he was determined to earn himself a better pitch to hit.
After John Hicks tripled and scored on a Niko Goodrum sacrifice fly to tie the game, a hit-by-pitch to Jose Iglesias extended the inning for Jones. Twins manager Paul Molitor made a mound visit, but he stuck with Lynn.
Like Jones' previous time up, Lynn threw nothing but fastballs. Jones chased the first one up and out of the zone, but he shrugged off the next three.
"I knew he probably didn't want to walk me there, because Leonys Martin is behind me, a left-handed hitter," Jones said. "I knew he was going to come at me, so hopefully he threw one across the plate."
Lynn did just that, and Jones didn't miss, sending a drive into the bullpen for his fifth home run of the year. That earned Fulmer (3-5) his first win at Comerica Park since last July 15.
Fulmer beat the Twins for the fifth time in as many career meetings. He joins Masahiro Tanaka, Hisashi Iwakuma and Sidney Ponson as the only pitchers to win each of their first five starts against Minnesota.
HE SAID IT
"I don't like getting too deep into conversations with him. I just like watching him swing." -- Gardenhire, on Nicholas Castellanos, whose 0-for-4 game Thursday extended his hitless streak to 18 at-bats. He finished the six-game homestand at 2-for-27 with 10 strikeouts.
The Tigers hit the road for a three-city, eight-game road trip, beginning Friday in Chicago with an 8:10 p.m. ET game against the White Sox. Mike Fiers (5-3, 4.01 ERA) will take the mound opposite Reynaldo Lopez (2-4, 3.26).
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.