CHICAGO -- Through the season’s first month, Nate Jones has proven worthy of the final bullpen spot he won out of spring training.
The hard-throwing rookie right-hander was at his sharpest in his 2 1/3 innings of relief on Saturday, as he struck out a career-high four batters and continued to be one of the White Sox’s most reliable arms out of the bullpen.
“He’s been pretty good,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s had some other outings where he’s been sharp. Again, he throws hard but he’s mixing in his off-speed stuff. He continues to improve. That’s one of the things with having the young guys that we have - you’re bringing them in situations where you want them to gain a little experience and feel for it every time they go out. You can see him gradually getting that. The first couple of outings, he has the nerves of being out there the first time. As far as me, I’m gaining a lot of confidence in just putting him in different situations.”
So far, Jones hasn't faced many pressure situation. Other than two occasions, Jones has entered games with the club either down by a run or more or ahead by seven (twice). He also pitched a scoreless 12th and 13th inning in the Sox’s 5-4 14-inning loss on April 25.
Jones hasn’t allowed a run in nine of his 10 appearances while left-handers are hitting just 2-for-23 against him. Baseball America ranked him as having the best curveball in the organization for three years heading into last season. And while he routinely throws in the upper 90s, he dedicated himself to developing a curveball during spring training, where the Kentucky native performed well enough to earn an Opening Day roster spot despite never playing above Double-A Birmingham.
On Saturday, 21 of Jones’ 29 pitches were strikes. He has 14 strikeouts compared to seven walks this season.
“Coop and Juan (Nieves) have just challenged me mentally, going in there and pumping in strike one, getting the first two out of three pitches in for strikes,” Jones said. “We’ve really been concentrating on that and last night I had a really good rhythm with A.J. going and we just kept coming after the hitters. It’s more focus mentally and just coming out and attacking.”