CHICAGO -- Nate Jones might not be part of the White Sox bullpen next season, for the first time since his 2012 Major League debut.Chicago holds the first of two consecutive club options, at $4.65 million with a $1.25 million buyout, on the talented right-handed reliever who has been limited
CHICAGO -- Nate Jones might not be part of the White Sox bullpen next season, for the first time since his 2012 Major League debut.
Chicago holds the first of two consecutive club options, at $4.65 million with a $1.25 million buyout, on the talented right-handed reliever who has been limited by injury to 44 games over the last two seasons. But the upbeat 32-year-old hopes to continue as the longest-tenured White Sox player on the roster.
"This is the team that drafted me and where I grew up, and this is where I had all those coaches along the way to get me here, the whole staff from the Minor Leagues and big league side," Jones said during a recent interview. "I would definitely like to stay.
"I've been kind of entrenched in getting healthy and being healthy and finishing healthy. But this is the only thing I know and I'm hoping and praying this will be the only thing I know -- the White Sox organization."
Jones posted a 3.00 ERA with five saves over 33 games in 2018, striking out 32 and walking 15 in 30 innings. He was a fifth-round pick in the 2007 Draft. Over 217 career games covering seven seasons, Jones has a 22-12 record, 3.11 ERA and 308 strikeouts in 281 innings.
When healthy, Jones is a solid late-inning option, with a fastball in the upper 90s. But staying healthy has been Jones' biggest issue.
His 2018 season was hampered by a pronator muscle strain, leaving him out of action from June 13 to Sept. 11. His '17 campaign came to an end on April 29, with Jones eventually having ulnar nerve repositioning surgery on his right elbow. He missed all of 2014 and all but 19 games in 2015 after a microdiscectomy procedure to alleviate back discomfort, followed by Tommy John surgery in '14 and the ensuing recovery from the procedure.
To say the last few years have been challenging for Jones would be an understatement. But never once did he believe it was more than he could handle with his wife, Lacy, their three children, and the White Sox organization.
"What crossed my mind was getting back to being healthy and pitching again," Jones said. "I always give 100 percent when I'm out there and sometimes, some things like this happen, so I was going to give 100 percent in the rehab process as well.
"I want to play until someone doesn't want me anymore or until they say I can't. Sum it up as the highs and lows, but I was fortunate enough we have a great training staff and they got me back on the field. That's a lot of determination by them and me as well. It's awesome just to get back out here and feel good."
Ian Hamilton, Jace Fry, Caleb Frare, Juan Minaya and Aaron Bummer represent a handful of young relievers expected to be in the mix for breaking camp with the White Sox in 2019, and Chicago will pursue veteran additions. But with the team's built-in payroll flexibility through the rebuild, Jones' option could make sense as an affordable and useful piece.
"Everything has been going good, recovering well and feeling good while I'm pitching, too," Jones said. "I've been blessed in that aspect.
"As a team, I can tell we are trending in the right direction. We have all this young talent that we've acquired and it's going to be fun to watch and see what pieces they add to it."
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.