Hot-hitting JaCoby Jones gets kick out of being Tigers’ John Wayne

Detroit News

Detroit — Ron Gardenhire knows that sometimes his jokes are a few decades beyond some of his players’ reach.

Like last year when he called outfielder Travis Demeritte “Dobie Gray,” because of his maddening tendency to drift after fly balls. Gray’s “Drift Away” was hit song in 1973, 21 years before Demeritte was born.

But when he referred to JaCoby Jones as John Wayne on Monday — because he didn’t want him to be a hero and try to play if he was hurt — he hit Jones where he lived.

“It’s actually pretty funny,” Jones said before the game Tuesday. “I know a lot of stuff about John Wayne. My dad watched his stuff all the time and my grandpa watched it when we went over there. I know a lot about John Wayne, so when he said that it made me laugh.”

Which is why, after Jones completed his inside-the-park home run Monday, he shot imaginary pistols at Gardenhire in the dugout.

“He’s throwing it back at me,” Gardenhire said, chuckling after the game Monday. “It’s just nice to see him out there playing. We want him playing. We just don’t want him killing himself.”

Jones went into the game Tuesday leading the American League in slugging (.786) and OPS (1.177). He’s also batting .333, all out of the No. 9 spot in the Tigers’ order. It was a little more than a year ago that he made a dramatic swing change, laying the bat on his shoulder in his setup to calm his hands.

“At that point, I was willing to try anything,” Jones said. “If they would’ve told me to hit with my feet, I would’ve tried it. I was going to try anything, but I did that and it’s paid off.”

More: With C.J. Cron on IL, Tigers forced to mix and match defensively

The suggestion first came from Tigers vice president of player personnel Scott Bream. Former hitting coach Lloyd McLendon worked tirelessly with Jones as he got comfortable with it.

Jones was pulled out of the game in Pittsburgh on Sunday with an abdominal strain. He said he’s been dealing with that particular discomfort for a couple of weeks.

“I think a lot of people are dealing with minor injuries right now,” Jones said. “It’s not serious. You just deal with it. It’s not harmful to keep playing, so it’s fine. I am sure everyone’s like that, nobody is 100 percent.”

Jones thought he had dropped a single in front of White Sox center fielder Adam Engel Monday. But when he saw Engel dive and the ball go past him, he turned on the jets.

“Oh yeah, as soon as he missed it I knew it was an inside-the-parker,” Jones said. “I didn’t even run full speed after I got to third base. I just jogged home. This is a huge park. If you mess up and the ball gets by you out there, it’s pretty much an inside-the-parker for anyone.

“Unless you are Franklin the Turtle.”

Around the horn

The White Sox reinstated shortstop Tim Anderson off the injured list Tuesday.

In 33 games against the Tigers, he’s slashed .321/.356/.493 with 17 RBIs and 27 runs scored.

White Sox at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD, MLBN/97.1

Scouting report:

RHP Dylan Cease, (2-1, 4.05), White Sox: The Tigers haven’t figured this young man out just yet. He beat the Tigers three times last year, allowing six runs and striking out 20 in 16 innings. He’s been stingy in his last two starts, allowing two runs in 11 innings with opponents hitting .194.

LHP Matthew Boyd (0-1, 9.20), Tigers: It’s been a rough start for Boyd. His bread-and-butter pitch, the slider, hasn’t been a consistent weapon yet. But he’s also pitched in some rough luck, as evidenced by an 88.5 mph average exit velocity and an unsustainably high .417 opponent average on balls in play.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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