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Pirates Rookie Joins Select Group of Pitchers

On Monday, Pittsburgh Pirates rookie pitcher Jared Jones joined a select group, striking out seven Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. That made him the fourth pitcher to strike out seven batters in each of his first five career games since 1893. Coincidentally, one of the other three pitchers in this class is a former Pirate, the hard-luck pitcher José DeLeón.

Pirates Rookie Pitcher Jones Joins Select Company

Anybody who observed the confident 22-year-old Jones as early as spring training wouldn’t be surprised at any of his achievements. In 16-1/3 innings in the exhibition season, the right-hander didn’t give up an earned run. With each pitch he threw in the spring, talk of him beginning 2024 in the minors just kept sounding dumber. When asked when he knew he had the makings of a good major league pitcher, he replied that it was when he was a sophomore in high school. Teammate Mitch Keller is the pitcher who drew the Opening Day assignment and signed for the big bucks. But can there be any doubt who the Pirates’ staff ace is now? If the Pirates reach their goal of playing in the postseason, Jones, although a young rookie, would be the only choice to be the Game 1 pitcher.

Down Goes Turang

OK, so maybe it doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Down goes Frazier.” Before we get into that, let’s look at Jones’s regular season statistics as of the close of Monday’s action. He’s 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA. The only reason he has any losses is due to a lack of support at bat or in the field. He’s struck out 39 batters in his 29 innings. Among his mind-boggling stats are a 0.828 WHIP, 3.25 FIP, and an ERA+ of 148, indicating he’s better than 48 percent of all pitchers. Jones has struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings. His 1.2 walks per nine and 9.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio are the best in the National League.

Jones’s hard-hit and line-drive percentages are higher than the MLB average. However, that’s deceiving because so few batters even hit the ball against him. He has struck out 34.8 percent of all batters faced. Opposing hitters have a slash line of .187/.223/.383 against him. It’s as if every batter facing him is Mario Mendoza. Did somebody on the Pirates forget to tell Jones that a rookie pitcher isn’t supposed to be this good, this soon?

On Monday, Jones snapped a six-game Pirates losing streak in defeating the Brewers, 4-2. Jones pitched six innings and allowed one run on four hits while striking out seven. One of those hits was a home run by Rhys Hoskins, proving that Jones is human after all. But he looked inhuman in striking out Brice Turang on a slider that made the left-handed batter look so foolish he could only smile about it.

Pirates Rookie Pitcher Jones Has the Right Stuff

Turang needn’t have been embarrassed. Not with the stuff Jones brings to the table. Jones’s four-seamer, which he throws 49 percent of the time, averages 97.3 mph. The velocity and the spin rate are both in the 97th percentile among MLB starters. He has good separation on the slider, which averages 88.6 mph, and is thrown 40 percent of the time. He also features a curveball and a changeup. Because of the speed and movement, batters have no choice but to sit on the four-seamer. But when they get one of the other pitches, they can look like they’re handling a rifle on a parade ground instead of a baseball bat.

A Quick Hook

In Jones’s previous start, against the New York Mets at Citi Field, Pirates manager Derek Shelton caused an uproar when he removed the rookie pitcher after just 59 pitches and five innings of one-hit ball. The bullpen promptly turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 loss. Shelton explained afterward that the Pirates had Jones on a predetermined pitch limit with the hope of managing the workload of the rookie pitcher. He wants Jones available late in the season without any limitations. He wants to avoid a situation like the one faced by the Washington Nationals in 2012. That’s when they shut down Stephen Strasburg and didn’t have him for the playoffs.

With the Bucs scoring just one run, maybe it was all moot. Even so, Shelton’s explanation didn’t sit well with many fans or media critics. Stunningly, on his weekly radio show, general manager Ben Cherington said the pitch limit wasn’t dictated by the front office, although he “respected” it. The move may have been justified by modern analytics. However, there’s a more old-school approach that says the opposing hitters will tell the manager when his pitcher is done. It defies common sense for a manager to decide when he’s going to remove his pitcher hours before the game even starts. Fans will recall how that worked out for Kevin Cash and the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series.

A Show of Confidence

On Monday, however, instead of removing Jones, Shelton gave him a vote of confidence. In the top of the sixth, the Brewers had a man on first base with two outs. Jones then surrendered a double to Jake Bauers. Now with runners on second and third, hard-throwing Colin Holderman was warming up in the bullpen. The situation screamed for Holderman. Shelton was deaf.

Jones walked Hoskins to load the bases. With the switch-hitting Blake Perkins due next, nobody would have complained if Shelton came out to get Jones. Shelton remained in the dugout. Jones rewarded his faith by gloving a smash by Perkins and throwing to first base to end the threat. After 91 pitches, Jones had done his job. The Pirates scored for him, and the bullpen held on for the victory.

The Last Word

Yes, he’s only a rookie, but Jones gives the Pirates a pitcher who appears to have the makings of a staff ace for a long time to come. Once Paul Skenes joins the mix as expected, the Pirates will have an intriguing one-two punch on the mound. A lot of batters may be calling in sick instead of coming to Pittsburgh.


Photo Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


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