Jones cooks up MLB-high 25 whiffs to help Bucs snap skid

April 23rd, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- Brewers manager Pat Murphy first saw when the pitcher was just 10 years old. Jones pitched for a rival club program in the Los Angeles area, and even then, Murphy took notice of him.

“This kid was always a special athlete,” said Murphy. “So it’s cool seeing him and what he’s doing. He’s been special, man. Watch him on tape, and you’re like, ‘Woof! It’s a good day for a rainout.’”

Alas for Murphy and the Brewers, there was not a drop of rain in sight at PNC Park Monday, and that young athlete Murphy saw over a decade ago has grown into one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball.

Jones was able to add another gem to his young Major League career. The rookie right-hander got 25 whiffs – tied for the most for any Pirate in the pitch tracking era – and struck out seven over six innings of one-run ball, leading the way to a 4-2 Pittsburgh win.

After the game, Murphy said Jones had “as good an arm as I’ve seen.” It’s hard to argue after that performance.

“That kid, he was electric,” Murphy said.

Murphy and the Brewers aren’t the first to be on the wrong side of Jones this season. He’s already up to 39 strikeouts with a 2.79 ERA over his first five starts in the Majors, showing power on his fastball and heavy break on his high-spin breaking stuff.

“He’s something that you don’t see,” Andrew McCutchen said. “He’s not a very big guy. That kind of plays for him. I was kinda comparing him to Jose Altuve. Jose Altuve isn’t a very big guy. You watch him play, he hits a ball 430 feet. How’d he do that? Jonesy is kinda the same way.”

And when you look deeper into those first five starts, he looks even better. To rattle off some of his early career accomplishments:

  • His 25 whiffs Sunday were tied for the most of any Pirate in the pitch tracking era (since 2008), matching performances by A.J. Burnett on Sept. 21, 2013 and Francisco Liriano on Sept. 11, 2014.
  • He is just the fourth pitcher in the Modern Era (since 1900) to record at least seven strikeouts in each of his first five games. The others are Masahiro Tanaka in 2014, Stephen Strasburg in 2010 and José DeLeón in 1983.
  • In the pitch tracking era, there have been just 42 instances where a Pirate starter threw a pitch 100 mph or harder. On Monday, Jones did it eight times.
  • Jones’ 98 whiffs this season are the most of any pitcher in their first five starts in the pitch tracking era. The previous record was held by Tanaka with 84.
  • Jones’ 98 whiffs are also the record for any pitcher through their first six starts. Even if Jones doesn’t miss a bat in his next start, Tanaka’s record through six starts is 96.
  • And it may not be historic, but this strikeout of Brice Turang that put the Brewer on his backside is worth a special mention, too.

And on Monday, Jones did it as a stopper, ending a six-game Pirate skid to keep their heads above .500.

“I think everyone in here, whenever they go out to take the mound, their job is to keep it close and get us in a winning position,” said Jones. “Being able to keep it close and obviously scoring a couple of runs in the sixth, it's awesome."

For most of the night, Jones was able to coast, but the sixth was the deciding frame. Tied at one with the bases loaded and two outs, Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton had southpaw Josh Fleming ready to go in the bullpen, but he opted to let his rookie pitch to switch-hitter Blake Perkins. Perkins had the hand advantage, but Jones came in with a 98 mph fastball and snared a comebacker to end the inning.

“He was still sharp,” said Shelton. “He walked Hoskins before that, got out of his delivery a little bit so it was like, ‘All right, here we go. Let’s see.’ And he stepped up and did it.”

Getting out of those jams is the biggest difference for Jones this year compared to the Minors in his eyes. On Monday, he came through.

"I know they trust me,” Jones said. “That's essentially what that was, their trust in me. I'm glad I could deliver for them."