Nobody inside the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse has more experience with JaCoby Jones than Lloyd McClendon.
McClendon, the Tigers’ hitting coach, first saw Jones’ ability three years ago, managing him at Triple-A Toledo.
“His talent,” McClendon said on Saturday afternoon, “is off the charts.”
Consider the source: McClendon, 60 years old, has spent his entire life in baseball as a player, coach and manager. He is a “baseball man” and has rubbed shoulders with thousands of players.
So when he says something like “off the charts,” you pay attention.
Soon opponents may, too. A day after his 12-game hitting streak ended, Jones returned to his torrid pace, posting a career day with two home runs and five RBIs in the Tigers’ 9-3 blowout win over the Twins.
Jones singlehandedly outscored the powerful Twins lineup, setting the tone with a three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning and capping the big win — in front of an announced 26,818 fans, the second-largest crowd at Comerica Park this season — with a two-run shot in the bottom of the eighth.
“I think JaCoby is finally getting to a point where he’s getting out of the way of his talents,” McClendon, the Tigers’ veteran hitting coach, said.
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Coupled with a strong pitching effort — Detroit, deploying an “opener” strategy with right-hander Buck Farmer to start followed by four pitchers — limited Minnesota to three runs on six hits.
“It’s kind of nice to be on that side of one of those,” manager Ron Gardenhire said afterwards.
But nothing is nicer than Jones’ late-May emergence: In his past 14 games, he is hitting .420 with four home runs and 20 RBIs. That kind of production for a full season, coupled with Jones’ standout defensive abilities in center field, would make for not just an All-Star, but an impact player.
Though the mechanical changes in his swing have been documented — early last month, McClendon urged Jones to rest the bat on his right shoulder in his batting stance, in an attempt to eliminate excess movement in his swing and promote bat-to-ball quickness — McClendon believes his recent performances are more mental than physical.
“I’d like to see him tell you, ‘I made this great change’ and this and that,” McClendon said, “But the fact is, he’s starting to get comfortable in his own skin and he’s confident in his ability at the plate. All the credit goes to the kid.”
Still, for a player whose calling card at the plate was striking out — Jones had 39 strikeouts in his first 110 at-bats of the season — the hits have been noticeable.
“He’s repeating his swing,” McClendon said. “He’s just in a position where he can repeat swings and he doesn’t have to think about timing or any of those things. It’s paid big dividends for him.”
Jones was able to power the Tigers to victory while Farmer —a reliever who hadn’t started a game in almost a year — recovered from allowing a run in the first. Farmer than struck out striking out three batters to end the inning. Overall, the Tigers gave their offense an opportunity to win the game.
That offense, more times than not most recently, has been fueled by Jones.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s done a lot of work trying to change his swing, the set-up, the whole package,” Gardenhire said. “Trying to get a little bit shorter to the ball and I think you’re starting to see that it’s starting to work for him.”
Jones has also fueled the Tigers’ attitudes, serving as a ray of energy every time he comes to the plate, or gets on base, or hits the ball over the fence and heads back to the dugout.
“He’s a very energetic young man,” McClendon said. “High-energy guy, brings a lot to the table and there’s no question about it, I think our guys feed off his energy, especially when he’s doing as well as he’s doing now.”
Of course, Jones is also the No. 9 hitter in the lineup. Don’t expect that to change any time soon, as Jones has provided a unique power-speed combination at the bottom of the order, serving as a quasi-leadoff hitter when the lineup turns over.
“I can’t wait,” Gardenhire said. “Once this gets going, for you guys to start asking me when I’m going to change the lineup and move (Jones) somewhere else.”
As if on cue, he was asked that very question.
“When you guys leave,” he said.
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Contact Anthony Fenech at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
Published at Sun, 09 Jun 2019 03:09:31 +0000