GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds bullpen candidate Nate Jones was born about three miles away from Great American Ball Park in Covington, Ky., at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital next to the Cut in the Hill off Interstates 71 and 75. A former pitcher at Northern Kentucky University, Jones currently resides in Butler,
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds bullpen candidate Nate Jones was born about three miles away from Great American Ball Park in Covington, Ky., at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital next to the Cut in the Hill off Interstates 71 and 75. A former pitcher at Northern Kentucky University, Jones currently resides in Butler, Ky., in Pendleton County.
But Jones signing a Minor League contract with Cincinnati last month wasn’t just about location. It was also a baseball decision.
“Obviously we were seeing what they were doing by adding players in the offseason,” Jones said Sunday. “We were excited about that. Career-wise and where I’m at, we didn’t know if there would be another opportunity to play for the hometown team. Once they were involved, we definitely wanted to pursue and take advantage of that.”
If Jones makes the big league team out of camp, he can earn a base salary of $1.5 million with an additional $1 million possible in incentive bonuses. He is vying for one of the expected three open spots in the Reds bullpen against a wide array of pitchers.
Over 284 career games in the Major Leagues with the White Sox from 2012-19, Jones is 22-13 with a 3.12 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. His 318 strikeouts in that span led all White Sox relievers. Those are strong numbers, but they also come with one caveat -- when he is healthy.
In May, Jones suffered a torn flexor mass muscle and had season-ending surgery. He appeared in only 13 games last season and posted a 3.48 ERA and career-worst 1.65 WHIP.
Jones, 34, has also endured a left hip muscle strain that cost him most of 2014, right elbow surgery in 2015 and right elbow neuritis that sidelined him for most of 2017. Now done with his latest rehabilitation, he is confident that he’s put his bad luck behind him and can contribute successfully again.
“With this whole throwing program I’ve progressed on and the bullpens I just completed, the way it acted during and the way it acted the next day, was the biggest thing,” Jones said. “It was how I recouped and healed to play catch the next day with no problem. Hopefully, I’ve learned from the past. I’ve gone through a lot of things with my arm. It was frustrating at the beginning of it but I’m kind of blessed at the end of it because I know more about my body and myself. Mentality wise, it just gets you stronger.”
Jones felt the injuries helped him learn what not to do on the mound.
“It gave me opportunities to clean up my mechanics, get smoother to make sure my direction is going towards the plate and not falling off,” he said. “I was kind of leading with my head and putting more stress on my elbow.”
During his most recent bullpen session, Jones threw 30-35 pitches. The club is holding him out from a few early Cactus League games as a precaution.
“Now I’m cleared to be a regular guy,” Jones said. “They talked about just holding me out the first week of spring games, which still gives me a month to prove what I can do and get ready for the season.”
Bell noticing Iglesias
Two workouts into Spring Training isn’t going to reveal a whole lot about players. But Reds manager David Bell has liked what he’s seen in the early going from closer Raisel Iglesias, who is coming off an often rough 2019 season.
“Iglesias seems a little bit more ready,” Bell said. “I think as a player, you find different ways to prepare yourself. Sometimes you don’t want to peak too early. Last year, he definitely was ready by Opening Day but it was a little bit of a slower process, I think. One thing he set out to do was to come in a little bit more ready. I think that showed when I was kind of peeking at him yesterday throwing his side [session]. I think that’s a good thing with him.”
Iglesias finished last season 3-12 with a 4.16 ERA and 34 saves in 68 games. His 12 losses established a franchise record for relievers.
Otherwise, Bell has been careful not to examine pitchers too closely as the workouts have yet to intensify.
“Part of me doesn’t want to watch too close,” Bell said. “I don’t know what it’s like to stand on that mound. Part of what we’re trying to do is ease into it a little bit. We definitely have plenty of time. I try not to pay too close attention. I think that’s a little bit unfair.”
Sunday was the reporting day for Reds position players. Three players had yet to check in by the morning -- non-roster invitees Derek Dietrich, Boog Powell and Jose Garcia, who were all expected to arrive by the end of the day. Position players are scheduled to have physicals Monday with the first full-squad workout Tuesday.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.