Nate Jones was the butt of many jokes made in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse this Spring Training. The 28-year-old relief pitcher suffered a gluteal strain in the middle of February, and did not hear the end of it. Thankfully, the injury was just a minor setback that caused for some playful teasing in the White Sox organization. The Sox were thankful that it was not more severe for Jones, especially with the extra responsibility he will have on this year’s team. After the White Sox traded closer Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jones was penciled in to take over the ninth inning role. Through five games this spring, Jones has pitched five innings without giving up a run. Sporting an impressive WHIP of just 1.00, Jones has displayed that he has successfully recovered from his injury.
Even with his hot start, the jury is still out on whether Jones should be the closer come Opening Day. A cause for concern is if he can continue to develop his slider.
Every dominant closer in MLB history complements their fastball with an even more impressive offspeed pitch. During his rookie year in 2012, Jones blew hitters away with his fastball. Occasionally topping out at 98 MPH, Jones had a SO/9 of 8.2 with an impressive 2.39 ERA.
The final stats that the Northern Kentucky University product recorded in his second year were deceiving, in the wrong way. If one was to take a quick glance at Jones’ 2013 numbers, the number that stands out is his ERA. The righties’ earned run average rose from 2.39 in 2012 to 4.15 in 2013. At the beginning of the year, Jones encountered a struggle that all young big leaguers face — opponents started to pick up on tendencies; hitters were waiting back on his fastball and would smash it all over the field. However, around June 1, Jones turned it around.
After the calendar turned to June, Jones started throwing his slider 15 percent more often than before. This resulted in him ending the year with a WHIP of 1.22 (a 16 point improvement from 2012) and a SO/9 of 10.3 (a 2.1 point improvement). With a deceptive off speed pitch now in his arsenal, Jones kept hitters guessing. His fastball became even more effective, because his slider kept hitters off balance. Late in the counts instead of just unleashing his fastball high in the zone, the reliever would mix in his slider. The development of this nasty pitch showed that Jones was moving from a straight thrower to a masterful pitcher.
Being a polished pitcher with an above average fastball-slider combination makes Jones an ideal candidate to shut the door for the White Sox in 2014. If his success continues, he will be the one who has the last laugh.