Garrett Jones wasn’t happy this week. While hitting .119 for the month of August entering last night’s game (courtesy of some atrocious luck on balls in play–.119 BABIP), manager Clint Hurdle gave his first baseman “a couple days down”. Jones did not start in the Milwaukee series, and received just one at-bat in a pinch-hit appearance Tuesday.
“At first, it’s frustrating. You want to stay out there, keep playing but at the same time, Gaby was swinging a great bat,” Jones said. “I wasn’t doing much at the plate, and winning is the most important thing so I understood what needed to be done.”
Garrett Jones went 3-for-4 in his return to the lineup last night, but his role may be marginalized with the presence of the newly acquired Justin Morneau. (Photo by: David Hague)
Friday, Jones soared from the bottom to the top as he went 3-for-4 and drove in four runs to push the Pirates past the Cardinals, 5-0. Included in his performance last night was career home run no. 100, which he hit on a 0-2 pitch from Cardinals starter Shelby Miller to lead off the fourth inning.
Jones began the scoring with a two-run double to right off Miller to put the Pirates up 2-0, homered in the fourth, and singled home Marlon Byrd in the fifth inning.
“It feels good to just to be able to contribute to the win,” Jones said. “You know , to be scuffling and just come up and get some hits against a team in a big series that we needed to win some ballgames.”
“It just feels good to know you worked to try to fix something and mentally and physically I felt good up there.”
Over the course of the past few days, three primary things helped Jones back into the starting lineup and have possibly his best–or at least, most important–game of the season.
Hurdle identified Jones’ posture as an issue he had seen in the month that Jones’ average dropped from .255 on Aug. 1 to .235 before Friday’s contest. Hurdle said Jones needed to stand up straighter in the batter’s box, which allows for other beneficial things in Jones’ swing to take place.
“He puts that foot down, he doesn’t leave his backside, he uses his hands to get the barrel out front,” Hurdle said. “He’s always been good when he’s able to maintain that posture.”
“I keep good posture and then my hands work better, not using the body, the body wasn’t getting involved, and the hands are working allowing the barrel of the bat to get to the ball easier and be able to drive the ball better.”
In his home run in the fourth, as well as the double in the first, fans saw Exhibits 1A and 1B of Jones’ posture impacting his ability to drive the ball.
A Fresh Perspective
Jones’ resurgence Friday wasn’t quite so much about a laser-sharp focus on baseball, but just taking a step back. But not “unplugging”, as Hurdle said.
“It was a little bit of everything, a lot of time in the cage, just talking with the coaches, not even about baseball,” Jones said. “Just getting off the game of baseball, talking.”
Aside from the coaches, though, Jones also got some interesting discourse from one of the newest faces in the Pirates clubhouse.
“That guy Marlon Byrd, the first day he got here he came up to me and said you’re a guy that could hit 30, 40 home runs,” Jones said. “We just started talking about hitting and what he was saying to me made a lot of sense, and I worked on that stuff.”
Byrd is having a career season with 22 home runs to his credit, while hitting .284/.328/.519 in 2013. It was a small adjustment Byrd made between 2012 and 2o13, and one he shared with Jones that may have paid immediate dividends when Jones launched his home run into the right field seats.
“We were talking about staying through the ball, the approach and the mechanics of your swing,” Jones said. “He was talking about how last year he hit for power and worked with it this offseason and totally just changed his turnaround and now he’s hitting for power. He’s not any stronger or faster but just a little mechanical change in the swing path, and we kind of have the same philosophy.”
Jones said the change wasn’t anything “drastic”, but one that just had him focus on “getting extended and staying through the ball.”
“What he told me made a lot of sense,” Jones said. “I think we just related as players. It made a lot of sense to me.”
“Timing. Just timing.”
It sounds simple, but proper timing helped Jones hit a changeup Miller threw him in the fifth inning of last night’s game. Jones waited back, and knocked the pitch the opposite way to left field for a RBI single that extended the Pirates’ lead to 5-0 and helped knock Miller out of the game
“Getting down in time to allow yourself to let your swing to take place,” Jones said. “A lot of hitting is just timing and I definitely worked on that. And the swing path, those are the two main things we’re working on.”
Earlier, which Pirates fans saw in most of the 17 times Jones struck out in 63 August at-bats, Jones was way out in front of many of the pitches he swung. To go back to the changeup he hit, Jones stayed back on the ball and just hit it where it was pitched.
“That was just my main problem, just being late and not allowing myself to swing and attack the ball,” Jones said.
C’est la vie
Saturday afternoon, no more than 24 hours removed from Jones’ game-winning performance, whatever powers-that-be turned the anti-gravity machine off and Jones was brought back to Earth as general manager Neal Huntington acquired Minnesota first baseman and 2006 MVP Justin Morneau for Alex Presley and a player-to-be-named-later or cash considerations.
Hurdle said last night the chance for Jones was still there to make an impact as the calendar turns into the final month of the regular season.
“The opportunity for impact, and the opportunity to make a difference there, it’s still right in front of you. So you’ve gotta stay focused, you’ve gotta stay positive, you’ve gotta continue to work,” Jones said. “Garrett put a lot of hard work in and it paid off big time tonight for us and for him.”
But today, Hurdle offered some differing thoughts now that he has another power-hitting first baseman on the roster.
“We have less than 30 games to play so it’s not about so much getting guys opportunities anymore,” Hurdle said. “Some of these moves have been made based on opportunity that’s been given for five months. Some of these moves have been made to look at how we can best strengthen ourselves for the last 29 games of this season and into the post-season.”‘
“Some things you don’t have to like, but you have to figure out and deal with and I think that might fall in that category for one or two of them as well.”
The “one or two of them” is most definitely Jones for one, as Gaby Sanchez and his .980 OPS against left-handed pitching will continue to platoon with Morneau at first base. The other player could be Jose Tabata, as Jones could be in line for more playing time in the outfield at the expense of Tabata.
Jones himself may not be the happiest person in the clubhouse, but as one of the longest-tenured Pirates in that clubhouse, he knows what it means to the team’s chances of winning now that Morneau is in the fold.
“Sometimes you gotta suck it up and know what’s best for the team, even though you want to be in there every play and every at-bat, every pitch,” Jones said. “It’s tough on that aspect, but at the same time it’s easier to take it down when you know you’re getting a good player and he’s going to help us, and we are winning.”
“Morneau makes us better.”
Morneau and Jones previously played together in Minnesota in 2007, when Morneau played in 163 games and Jones played in 31.
“For me personally, it’s just about winning right now. Yeah, I want to be in there obviously and when I am in there I’ll do anything I can to help the team,” Jones said. “It’s definitely going to change a little bit, whether I’m the first baseman or in the outfield. Just when I do get the chance to play, [I'll] just keep doing what I can to help the team.
With the additions of Byrd, John Buck, and Morneau this week, Hurdle has many more options when it comes to constructing his roster. Those options will become even more numerous in about six hours when rosters expand.
“We’ve got more depth, we’ve got more options than we had four days ago with the three additions,” Hurdle said. “We’re a better team, we’re a stronger team.”
Hurdle said Morneau is on a plane and he may be available at some point during tonight’s game.
Jose Tabata LF
Neil Walker 2B
Andrew McCutchen CF
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Marlon Byrd RF
Garrett Jones 1B
Clint Barmes SS
A.J. Burnett P
Matt Carpenter 3B
Carlos Beltran RF
Matt Holliday LF
Allen Craig 1B
Yadier Molina C
Jon Jay CF
Kolten Wong 2B
Daniel Descalso SS
Lance Lynn P