On a tear, Jones leads Tigers' HR revolution

July 30th, 2020

DETROIT -- The Tigers watched plenty of teams turn games against them on home runs last year. Six games into this season -- or 10 percent through the shortened schedule -- they are reveling in life on the other side of the long ball.

“When you get behind, you don't have much fear when you have guys that can pop a baseball and get you right back into it,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after ’ seventh-inning solo homer completed a rally of five unanswered runs for a 5-4 win over the Royals on Wednesday night at Comerica Park.

“Those are the things that we really struggled with last year. Once we got behind, we just didn't have the weapons or the experience to figure out how to get back in. Most of these guys understand it's just keep playing and good things will happen, and that's kind of what's going on right now.”

For 4 1/2 innings, Detroit looked stymied by Kansas City’s Danny Duffy, while looked for answers to a Royals offense that sprayed doubles and triples around Comerica Park’s expansive outfield. One game-tying home run from changed the tone of the game. Jones’ homer completely turned it, sending the Tigers to a 4-2 start to the 2020 season.

“We were battling,” Jones said. “Our pitching staff was keeping us in the game. They were grinding, getting outs.”

The Tigers finished last in the American League with 149 home runs last year. They are now jockeying for the Major League lead this season with 12. All four of their wins have come courtesy of go-ahead homers.

“It would be better if we could open up a lead and relax a little bit, but they're going good right now,” Gardenhire said.

Three of those homers have come from Jones, the ninth batter in the lineup but possibly the most dangerous at the moment. His 3-for-3 performance included a pair of doubles he ripped into the left-field corner off Duffy, one of which put him on base for Schoop’s homer.

Jones is 8-for-19 with five extra-base hits through six games this season. He has a track record of being a streaky hitter in his career, but this is the first time he has started out a season on a tear.

“I struggled my first couple years in the big leagues, switching stances and everything. And I’m finally doing what I did last year, just putting the bat on my shoulder and resting it up there,” Jones explained. “I’m just trying to be smooth, nice and easy, just letting my hands work. It’s paid off.”

Jones felt like he was getting comfortable with that approach in 2019, going 7-for-23 in August, when a pitch from Kansas City’s Jorge López fractured his wrist and ended his season. When he took a pitch off his helmet from Royals starter Kyle Zimmer in Tuesday’s game, the frustration was evident.

“I get pitched up and in all the time,” Jones said. “These guys are the ones that pitched up and in on me last year and broke my wrist. That was frustrating. Then to get hit in the face yesterday topped it off. But I’m over it. It is what it is.”

Wednesday was his chance at revenge. He had two of Detroit’s three hits off Duffy, then the game-winning blow late.

Schoop’s third-inning sacrifice fly opened Detroit’s scoring, but it was his fifth-inning two-run homer that made the biggest difference. After Niko Goodrum’s sac fly brought Schoop to the plate as the potential tying run, Schoop lofted a homer off the top of the right-field wall. It was Schoop’s second homer in as many nights, but about 80 feet shorter than his drive to the center-field shrubs the night before.

Unlike Tuesday night, Royals reliever Ian Kennedy pitched Jones outside, putting him in a 1-2 count with back-to-back fastballs on the corner. Jones worked the count full, fouled off a cutter just off the plate, then got a fastball in the middle that he knocked out of the yard.

“I was sitting on offspeed every single pitch,” Jones said. “My hands are fast enough that I can stay within myself and I can get to those. In that situation, facing him in the past, I was waiting on offspeed and he never threw it.”

The Tigers’ bullpen held it from there, continuing its stingy start. earned his first Major League win with a perfect seventh inning, retiring the top third of the Royals' order including red-hot leadoff man Whit Merrifield. After another clean eighth from Buck Farmer, earned his fourth save in as many appearances.