Jared Jones' 101 mph heat can even make Shohei look silly

June 5th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- Jared Jones’ summers were spent at Dodger Stadium. The Pirates rookie grew up in La Mirada, Calif., his high school being only 23 miles southeast of his hometown team’s stomping grounds. He remembers Yasmani Grandal homering from both sides of the plate in one game there, one of his favorite baseball memories as a fan.

On Tuesday, he got to face L.A. for the first time, and the Southern California kid won a 1-0 pitching duel at PNC Park. Jones struck out six over six innings, while Jack Suwinski provided the only run of the game with a solo shot off of Tyler Glasnow in the third.

“Going out there, facing them for the first time, throwing up six zeros and giving us a chance to win, that means everything," said Jones.

It was clear Jones was pretty amped up for the start. He threw three pitches 101 mph or harder in the first inning, including offerings of 101.4 and 101.3 mph to Mookie Betts, the leadoff hitter. Those were the third- and fourth-hardest thrown pitches for a Pirates starter since Statcast began tracking in 2008, topped only by a 101.9 mph four-seamer from Paul Skenes on May 11 and a 101.7 mph fastball from Gerrit Cole on June 21, 2013.

But perhaps his best pitch of the inning was the 101 mph fastball up and away that blew right by Shohei Ohtani for strike three. It was the first time in Jones’ Major League career he hit 101 mph, let alone doing it three times.

"I would say it's close [to the best we’ve seen his stuff],” said Derek Shelton. “You're talking about that kind of lineup and having to navigate through, I would say that's as close as we've seen it."

Needless to say, Jones was pitching with adrenaline, but that also came with some shakiness early, needing to strand four runners in scoring position through the first three innings. But the 22-year-old settled in as the game progressed.

"Nerves can get to me pretty easily,” Jones admitted. “... I got a little wild a little bit, but just keeping the nerves down and going out there and competing is what got me through it."

Some nerves can be expected when facing a childhood team, or facing a Dodgers lineup that starts with three former MVP winners -- Betts, Ohtani and Freddie Freeman. Jones isn’t the type of pitcher who backs down from a challenge, though, and he went right after them. Some of his best pitches of the night were changeups to Ohtani. He shook Henry Davis’ original calls to get to more changeups, and it worked splendidly in the third, getting the two-way star to ground into a double play.

“He does a really good job in these games because he takes the name off the back of the jersey,” said Davis. “He's really not concerned with who's up there. The scouting report, if I show you my card, it just says [his] strengths. That's fastball, slider and we're mixing the other two. But we're just trying to out-stuff you and wait until someone's on time for a heater, and that's infrequent. Just taking the name off the back of the jersey. It can be Ohtani, it can be anybody else, but he really trusts his stuff, and that's what lets him be as good as he is."

And unlike some other starts Jones has had this year, the stuff didn’t see much decline as the outing went deep into the night. No, he wasn’t hitting 101 mph anymore, but he was able to ramp up a 99 mph fastball on his 100th pitch to strike out Jason Heyward to wrap up the sixth. That set the stage for Colin Holderman, Aroldis Chapman and David Bednar to close it out.

“He trusts all his stuff,” Davis said. “He got better the later we went in the game, and I think that's great to see."

This start also came after Jones’ first clunker in the big leagues his last time out, where he allowed seven runs and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning against the Tigers. It’s safe to say he’s put that outing behind him.

"I said last week that I couldn't wait to get back on the mound again,” Jones said. “It's a great feeling after a really rough one."