Jones whiffs 10, makes history in dazzling MLB debut

Rookie helps power Bucs' third straight win; Skenes deals in Triple-A

March 31st, 2024

MIAMI -- just wanted the first pitch to be close enough towards home that Henry Davis could catch it.

Before exiting in the sixth inning Saturday at loanDepot park, Jones did more than just hit Davis’ glove. The Pirates’ No. 3 prospect made history, striking out 10 and getting 22 whiffs en route to a 9-3 win over the Marlins. That whiff total is the highest for any pitcher in their Major League debut in the pitch tracking era (since 2008), and Jones became the first Pirate to strike out double-digit hitters in their debut since Tim Wakefield in 1992.

The Jones-Davis battery dates back to High-A Greensboro in 2022 and Double-A Altoona last season, and the catcher has been very vocal that he loves catching Jones because of his attitude on the mound. Out of all the games Davis has caught him, he thought what he saw Saturday was probably the best Jones has looked.

"Not something I didn't expect,” Davis said before grinning. “But yeah, it was pretty good."

“It’s incredible what he did,” Jared Triolo said, before asking how many strikeouts Jones had. When told, he joked, “I hear that’s pretty good.”

Pretty good indeed. But for all of the missed bats, it was being able to get Luis Arraez to fly out in the bottom of the first that helped Jones kick the jitters.

"I think after the first hitter, got him out, [I thought], you know what, I just got a batting champ out,” Jones said. “Let's settle in here and get to work. That was the whole plan from there on out."

What ensued was one of the best debuts from a Pirates pitcher in recent memory. He was charged with three runs over 5 2/3 innings, but was only on the hook for three hits and two walks on the afternoon. His only blemishes came after the walks, giving the Marlins two-out life in the fourth for a couple of run-scoring hits and then having to hand the ball over in the sixth, when reliever Ryan Borucki allowed an inherited runner to score.

It didn’t much matter, though, because the offense gave him plenty of support too, opening the scoring in the third and never surrendering the lead in a 16-hit performance.

“He executed his slider,” manager Derek Shelton said. “He executed the fastball. He threw some changeups and curveballs early that were really impressive. We knew organizationally this kid has weapons. We saw it on display today a little bit.”

The fastball and slider, his usual bread and butter pitches, were the story again, getting 10 whiffs on 17 swings against the slider and 11 on 26 swings against the fastball. The fastball lived up in the zone, while the sinker was able to play to both sides of the plate, a sign that he was able to use both his more sweeping slider and the one with more gyro spin that bites further downwards.

With those pitches clicking, he was able to consistently miss Marlin bats.

“Obviously I threw a lot of fastballs and sliders today, executing those in the spots they need to be was huge," Jones said.

“Yeah the fastball, it had a lot of life,” Marlins outfielder Jesús Sánchez said, via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “You could see that it was moving great. Pitcher was really good, and you got to give a lot of credit, he was nasty today."

For those who saw him in spring, it was clear he had this type of potential. But to see those results right out of the gate?

“That was electric,” Mitch Keller said. “It’s fun to watch.”

Not to take any attention away from Jones, but it’s hard to ignore that in Louisville, top prospect Paul Skenes tossed three perfect innings for the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis. It’s hard to ignore Skenes starts. Even Jones watched along before he took a Major League mound for the first time.

“I'm probably going to go talk to him,” Jones said. “'Hey, I got more punchies than you today.' But I obviously threw 2 2/3 more innings.”

Perhaps it’s premature to look too far ahead into the season, but Skenes will come up at some point as well. Mix him in with Jones and Keller, and the Pirates could have one of the most formidable fronts of a rotation in the game soon.

"It's an exciting time,” Davis said, beaming. “It's a good time to be a Pirate."