Detroit Tigers’ JaCoby Jones wants ‘to make pitchers pay’ after latest hand fracture

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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In three of the last four years, Detroit Tigers outfielder JaCoby Jones has sustained severe injuries from being hit by a pitch.

Since getting plunked in the left hand in September, an injury which required surgery, the 28-year-old has returned to full health. He took time off in September and October but is now preparing for the 2021 season.

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But despite his history of getting hit, he isn’t going to change the aggressive and polarizing style that encouraged former manager Ron Gardenhire to nickname him John Wayne.

“I just got to do a better job of getting out of the way, I guess. I don’t know,” Jones said Wednesday about getting hit. “I’m definitely going to have some type of protective gear on my wrist or some type of plate on there. I’m going to have to figure it out during spring training.”

In April 2017, Jones took an 89-mph fastball to the face against the Minnesota Twins. In August 2019, he was drilled on the left wrist by a 95-mph fastball against the Kansas City Royals and underwent season-ending surgery.

And this September, he was hit with a 90-mph fastball in the left hand against the Milwaukee Brewers. Again, he needed surgery, forcing an early conclusion to the already shortened season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three pitchers who have hit him: Justin Haley from the Twins in 2017, Jorge Lopez from the Royals in 2019 and Phil Bickford from the Brewers in 2020. Lopez is now with the Baltimore Orioles, while Bickford — a rookie last season — remains with the Brewers.

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“You hate always getting hit,” Jones said. “I want to make pitchers pay for that. I just hate getting hit, but it’s a part of the game. I guess pitchers like to throw in to me and not let my hands get extended, so sometimes it gets away from them.

“I can’t go out there and charge the mound every time and kick someone’s ass, so I just have to get back in the box and make them pay with my bat.”

Last season, Jones hit .268 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 30 games. In a 13-game span to begin the year, from July 24 through Aug. 10, he was 14-for-42 (.333) with all five of his home runs and 12 of his 14 RBIs.

He went 12-for-53 (.226) the rest of the way.

Jones said his power hasn’t declined because of his most recent injury. Neither has the speed of his swing. He has a pitching machine in his house to practice.

If there’s an area he needs to make improvements, it’s expanding on his long-term consistency. That will come with time, Jones believes, referencing his numbers since May 1, 2019, when he changed his stance and swing.

The numbers: 89-for-344 (.259) with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in 103 games.

“Once you have success, it’s automatically going to build confidence,” Jones said. “Once you figure something out that works, you just keep going from there. I feel like that’s what I’ve done ever since I’ve changed my batting stance to just putting my hands on my shoulder, resting and letting my athleticism take over. And being a little more patient.”

Jones will continue developing with a fresh coaching staff in 2021, led by manager AJ Hinch, hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz Jr.

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A couple of weeks ago, Hinch called Jones to explain what life in the clubhouse and on the field will be like with him as the team’s manager. He piqued Jones’ interest when discussing his analytical approach, something that could take the outfielder to the next level in the batter’s box.

“As far as offense, just keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Jones said. “I mean, I’ve had success ever since I changed my stance, just being more plate disciplined and not missing those pitches. When they hang those breaking balls, just hammer them, and try to get out of the way of those fastballs up and in.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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