Amid struggles, Rox want Jones to 'relax and play baseball'

April 1st, 2024

CHICAGO -- has come up big defensively on plenty of occasions for the Rockies. On Monday at Wrigley Field, he was ready to do so again, but the play spiraled.

A ground ball single by Cubs third baseman Christopher Morel got under Jones’ glove in the sixth inning, and a Jones throwing error on the same play allowed three Chicago runners to score in the Rockies' 5-0 loss.

“It was just a routine ground ball,” Jones said. “I came up hard and thought I was going to have a play at the plate and peeked up a little bit, and the ball snuck under my glove.”

The Rockies and Cubs were scoreless in the sixth on a cold, rainy day in Chicago, amid a pitchers' duel between starters Dakota Hudson and Shota Imanaga. Hits had been hard to come by to that point, but Chicago was threatening after singles by Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki to lead off the inning.

Morel hit a single to the right of shortstop Ezequiel Tovar, a sharp grounder registering a 110.9 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast. With how hard it was hit, and Jones’ reputation in the outfield -- his 19 outfield assists last season set a Rockies franchise record and led the Majors -- Happ had the stop sign at third base as Jones closed in on the ball.

The ball rolled under Jones’ glove and all the way to the left-field wall. Morel was stopping at third base when Jones’ relay throw skipped and deflected away from cutoff man Brendan Rodgers, and the Cubs slugger scored with a head-first slide into the plate.

Jones also committed an error on Sunday, when a two-out fly ball hit by Ketel Marte in the fifth inning deflected off his glove, bringing a run home in a 5-1 loss to the D-backs. Including Monday, he’s made four errors this season -- all in left field -- after making just four in 106 games in 2023 (two in left field).

“I had never played outfield before last year, and I felt that I had a careless attitude and was able to play freely, and I worked really hard this offseason,” Jones said. “I know what's right. I know what to do, and now I think I'm putting a little more pressure on myself to make the good play, make the big play, throw the guy out at home, and it's cost us back-to-back games.”

Manager Bud Black said he and the coaching staff have stressed Jones getting back to basic fundamentals the last couple of days. Perhaps more importantly, they want Jones to take some of that pressure off of himself.

Jones has gotten off to an overall slow start (batting 2-for-20), but he’s a key member of the Rockies at the plate and in the field. He finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting last season after launching 20 homers and tallying 62 RBIs.

“Nolan feels horrible, right, because he's such a caring player and cares about the Rockies and his performance,” Black said. “We caught up, actually, after the game [today]. He came in. … He’s just getting ahead of himself a little bit. He's trying really hard in that situation today. I'm sure he was charging hard in anticipation of throwing Happ out at home. Didn't happen. And he's just putting a lot of pressure on himself because of his present standing on the team, and it’s unwarranted. He’s just got to relax and play baseball.”

It’s been a tough few days for Jones, but that represents a small fraction of the six-month, 162-game season. The Rockies know he will come up big often for them, as he has so often during the past year.

“I love that he's coming in so hard to try and save me that run,” said starter Dakota Hudson, who was charged with three unearned runs and four hits in his 5 1/3-inning season debut.

“It's going to mean a lot going forward. It was unfortunate that it did happen [today]. But that guy's going to save our pitching staff so many runs over the course of a season. So it's one of those you just kind of wipe clean and get it back out there tomorrow and continue to play hard like he is.”