After confiding in teammates, pressing Jones' process pays off

April 13th, 2024

TORONTO -- Postgame after harsh postgame this season, Rockies second-year man -- and star rookie last year -- has worn anger and tension from a struggle-filled start to 2024. But a closer look revealed that Jones was driven to keep working and believing his torrid form to finish last season would return.

Some nights ended with him in an open spot between the furniture of the Coors Field clubhouse, practicing the timing of his leg kick. Almost any day started with him on the field with Michael Toglia, taking early batting practice, asking questions like, “Does my bat position look right?” He’d squeeze in moments after hitting sessions to study cell phone video.

“This is what I love doing,” Jones said one afternoon, even though he had games that made what he loves really hurt.

Love became unconditional when he led off the top of the fifth inning Friday night by blistering a Paolo Espino pitch at a Statcast-projected 112 mph and into the upper porch in right field for his first home run of the season. Jones, who also doubled in a third-inning run, was one of the exhaling blows for the Rockies in their 12-4 victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

The victory removed weights from the shoulders of Rockies players like Jones, who entered with 23 strikeouts in 13 games, and fanned in his first at-bat against Kevin Gausman on Friday.

The game was equally cleansing for Brendan Rodgers, who doubled in the second for his first RBI of the season plus singled and tripled, and Kris Bryant, who pushed aside the .100 batting average he took into the game with two hits including a two-run double.

“It’s contagious I think -- let’s hope so,” manager Bud Black said. “We won’t know until tomorrow, but it’s a good sign.

“Good for Brendan, good for ‘K.B.,’ good for Nolan. We need those guys."

It wasn’t only struggling guys who excelled. Ezequiel Tovar homered in a two-hit, two-RBI night, Ryan McMahon doubled thrice on a four-hit night, Elias Díaz added two hits and Brenton Doyle knocked three hits.

Chiefly, it was a night for ending awful history, and that goes beyond the current players. The Rockies had lost all nine previous games at Rogers Centre, but avoided becoming the first team to lose its first 10 at a visiting park since the Mets (2000-03) at what is now Oracle Park in San Francisco.

Jones needed this one as much as anyone. He doesn’t turn 26 until May 7, but he carried worries beyond his years. Black noticed Jones’ angst before this road trip -- three games each against the Jays and the Phillies.

“From the coaching staff, everybody’s trying to help because he’s a guy that cares a lot,” Black said in Denver. “He really wants to be a big contributor, and sometimes, that gets in the way.”

Nearly a week ago, another country ago, Jones was statistically in the depths of his slump. He struggled offensively and made four errors in left field the first week of the season. He worked and leaned on friends -- in Purple Pinstripes and beyond.

“It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, [to] feel like one loss, or an error or a mistake or a blown save can dictate your season or the type of player or person you are,” Jones said. “I’ve really confided in ‘KB,’ on what I was feeling and what was going on. I talked to Dansby [Swanson, the Cubs’ shortstop] in Chicago. I want to beat the Cubs every single time I play them, but we all feel for each other and we’re in this together, because it’s a tough game.”

There is an easy analysis of Jones’ slow start.

After arriving in a trade with the Guardians on Nov. 15, 2022, Jones pressed during ‘23 Spring Training and found himself at Triple-A Albuquerque. After being recalled, he surged to fourth place in the final National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Early results say he has pressed again this year.

But maybe the struggles complete him.

“Trusting the process is the biggest thing that we can do as athletes because that's what we control,” Jones said in describing how he would make nights like Friday happen. “If I play terrible and I’m an awful outfielder and I'm not using my resources here [and] I'm not confiding in my teammates, I don't really have anything to bounce back on.

“But I’m going to get better because I’m doing the work, confiding in my teammates -- and the coaches are working with me every single day. That’s where I take my positive stuff.”