Jones moves past 'really scary' moment to once again dominate

June 23rd, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- ’ first inning got off to a wild and scary start, hitting Amed Rosario with a 100 mph fastball Saturday at PNC Park. There was no fracture for Rosario, who was removed from the game and needed stitches, so it could have been much worse for the Rays’ third baseman.

It was still frightening to see a player go down to the ground and immediately have athletic trainers running towards him.

“That sucked,” Jones said postgame before he was asked a question. “I felt really bad. Obviously just let a fastball go way up and inside on him. That stuff really just can't happen. I heard it's just stitches but I really hope he's OK.”

Catcher Jason Delay and pitching coach Oscar Marin went to the mound to try to get the 22-year-old right-hander to regroup. While on the mound, Delay told him to just trust his stuff in the zone, a simple message that may have needed to be heard after allowing a career-high six earned runs his last time out against the Rockies.

“I felt like he was maybe trying to do a little bit too much in that first inning,” Delay said. “Whether he took that message, I don't know, you'd have to ask him. But he seemed to settle in there.”

Jones did settle in and ended up bouncing back to deliver one of his best starts of the season, striking out eight over seven innings of two-run ball to lead the Pirates to a 4-3 win over the Rays.

“He's good. He's really good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “... He commanded the ball extremely well. A lot of first-pitch strikes. It seemed like that's why he kept us quiet, because he was so good."

Jones has talked about wanting to explore using his secondary offerings more recently, but faced with adversity and needing to bounce back, he leaned on his four-seamer and slider and dominated. He allowed just three hits over the final six innings, with the lone run allowed being more a product of Bryan Reynolds losing a ball in the sun in the fourth rather than a mistake pitch.

When asked what he attributed his turnaround to, Jones answered, “not wanting to hit a guy in the face again.” It’s clear the incident, while completely unintentional, did leave a mark on him, but didn’t impact how he went about pitching.

“That was a really scary moment,” Jones said. “Just knowing I got to lock it back in and letting my stuff play through the zone early. I felt like we did a pretty good job of that.”

Ah, emphasizing letting the stuff play through the zone? Sounds like Delay’s message did resonate.

Saturday was the first time Delay had caught Jones in a game since Spring Training. Jones’ status as a prospect to a promising rookie pitcher and one half of the “Allegheny Electric Company” with Paul Skenes has been one of the highlights of this Pirates season. So is this the same guy Delay caught three months ago?

"I mean, the stuff still plays the same,” Delay said. “It's always been power stuff. I do think he's matured a little bit. Kind of like I said, just the ability to reel back a little bit and understand that that first inning didn't necessarily go the way that he wanted to. But, [he] took a step back and tried to do less and had a really good outing for us."

Jones was aided by an Oneil Cruz home run that reached the Allegheny River on the fly in the first inning -- becoming just the sixth player to do so in PNC Park’s history -- as well as RBI knocks from Bryan Reynolds and Rowdy Tellez in the third to bounce back from that Rockies start and get back in the win column.

Jones was able to flush that bad outing and scary moment by not letting himself focus on the bad, and it worked. Manager Derek Shelton says he has to remind himself sometimes that Jones is still only 22 years old. The rookie showed some moxie to bounce back.

“I think it shows you he's resilient and that he's got really good stuff," Shelton said.