After distinguished career, pitching coach Jones retires
Baseball vet of 38 years helped develop Verlander, Scherzer while with Tigers
DETROIT -- The Tigers' coaching staff, which had been expected to stay intact with manager Brad Ausmus' return, now has a major opening. Jeff Jones, who coached two Tigers pitchers to Cy Young Awards, announced his retirement Monday after spending the last five seasons as pitching coach and nine seasons on the Tigers' coaching staff.
Jones turned 59 years old in July. Between his pitching and coaching careers, the Michigan native spent 38 years in baseball. He was initially expected back, but had also been weighing retirement, reaching a decision late last week.
"I am grateful for the opportunity the Tigers have afforded me through the years and enjoyed working on Brad's staff and with Jim Leyland," Jones said in a statement. "There have been some great moments that I'll cherish, especially being a lifelong Tigers fan. I've been contemplating this for a little while, and at this point in my life, I want to spend time with my family and grandchildren, and I am looking forward to it."
Reached by phone later Monday, Jones said health issues also factored into his decision. Between knee replacement surgeries and a procedure a couple years ago to replace a couple of disks in his neck, he had been contemplating retirement since about midway through the season.
"Thirty-eight years in the game has taken its toll," Jones said.
Born in Detroit, Jones pitched at Bowling Green before the A's drafted him in 1977. He pitched parts of five seasons in Oakland in the early 1980s before going into coaching with the Tigers' organization in 1989.
Jones coached at four Tigers Minor League stops, including four stints as pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo. He also served as Tigers' bullpen coach on five occasions for five managers, including Leyland.
Jones finally got his chance as a Major League pitching coach when the Tigers made a midseason switch in 2011, promoting Jones from bullpen coach to replace then-pitching coach Rick Knapp.
The results were one of the greatest eras for pitching in franchise history. Justin Verlander, who was in the midst of an American League Cy Young and MVP season when the change was made, thrived under his watch.
Max Scherzer, a gifted but mercurial pitcher for his first two seasons, blossomed into a Cy Young hurler.
"He was such a good pitching coach for me because he related to me," Scherzer told MLB.com in a text message. "He understood what I thought and how I wanted to pitch. He helped simplify my mechanics to make me more consistent. But most importantly, he helped develop my curveball. It all started in [a bullpen session] in Cleveland and it has really helped me achieve a level of pitching I never knew I had."
Jones also became a mentor to former Tigers first-round pick Rick Porcello, who grew from a young sinkerballer into a strikeout pitcher under Jones before being traded to the Red Sox last offseason. Other starters with whom Jones worked include Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, David Price and Drew Smyly.
"I was blessed over the last five years to have some tremendous pitchers," Jones said. "It was an honor for me to work with them, and it was an honor to get into the playoffs for four straight years."
Between Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Porcello, Jones played a part in $592 million of pitching contracts.
"Jonesy has been a great influence on our pitchers, both the veterans and the younger arms, and was a solid complement to our big league coaching staff," Ausmus said. "We respect his decision and wish him all the best."
The Tigers have started a search to hire a replacement. However, the move comes at a time when Detroit's Minor League coaching ranks are in flux. Minor League pitching coordinator A.J. Sager, who succeeded Jones at Toledo before moving into an organizational role a couple years ago, is likely to be the lone internal candidate. Mike Maroth, a former pitcher under Jones who spent this past season as Mud Hens pitching coach, left last month for an instructional job in the Braves' organization.
One intriguing possibility is former Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty, who served as Tigers pitching coach under former manager Luis Pujols in 2002 and earned high regard in Washington from 2009 through this season. Like Jones, McCatty is a Detroit native, and he graduated from Troy High School and has an offseason home in the area. He and Jones were teammates in Oakland and served on Pujols' staff together, when Jones was bullpen coach.
Ausmus said on Monday that the club has put together a preliminary list of candidates, including Sager, but hasn't talked to anyone yet.