JaCoby Jones Knew This Was Coming: 'I’m Just Gonna Keep It Up -- Forever'

The Tigers are 4-2 and Jones is hitting .421.

Will Burchfield
July 30, 2020 - 10:33 am
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We've heard a lot about JaCoby Jones since he entered the Tigers organization in 2015. At the plate, we've heard about his hands. Their reputation precedes them, like a cowboy with the fastest shot in the West. Jones, they say, has some of the fastest hands in the game. 

So we turn to Wednesday night at Comerica Park, the Tigers and Royals tied in the seventh. Jones, with two doubles to his name, digs in against Ian Kennedy. He's seen Kennedy before. He remembers getting a steady dose of off-speed pitches. So he's sitting on one now, not concerned about the heater in the pitcher's back pocket. 

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"My hands are fast enough," said Jones. "I just stay within myself and I can get to those." 

Naturally, Kennedy throws him nothing but smoke. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, the count full, Jones gets a 94 mph fastball at the knees. 

"I don't have to try to do too much," he said. "That showed off right there. I was sitting on off-speed and he came with a heater and I just got my hands to it and put a good swing on it." 

The ball jumps off his bat to right field, seemingly picking up speed as it climbs through the air. It pushes Whit Merrifield back to the wall and then lands in the seats, the latest clutch homer for a club that last year couldn't hit any homers at all. Jones skips around the bases and springs off third like a trampoline. Through six games, the Tigers are 4-2 and Jones is hitting .421 with three bombs. 

"I feel pretty good at the dish," he said with a smile. "Seeing it pretty good." 

It took Jones 29 games to hit three home runs in 2019. That was before he made an adjustment at the plate at the recommendation of one of the Tigers' longtime scouts. Jones quieted his hands before the pitch and took off on a tear. Even though his season ended early due to a broken wrist -- keep this in mind -- he was in a good frame of mind entering 2020. Fittingly, he was aiming for 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. 

If he stops hitting everything over the fence, he just might have a chance. 

"I felt great," he said. "Struggled those first couple years in the big leagues, switching stances and everything. Finally doing what I did last year, just putting the bat on my shoulder and resting up there, trying to be smooth and easy and just letting my hands work, it’s paid off.

"Last year after breaking my wrist it was so frustrating, I was so upset. So I just kept doing that this offseason when I got healthy, just kept working on it over and over, and when I got here for summer camp I felt good. I’m just gonna keep it up – forever." 

To do that, Jones will have to stay on the field. That hasn't been easy for him through the first few years of his career. He patrols center field with abandon, which is great when it doesn't lead to injuries. He also has a tendency to crowd the plate, which is fine when he's not getting plunked. His helmet has a cheek guard because he was hit in the face in 2017. His broken wrist last year was thanks to a fastball courtesy of the Royals. 

So we turn to Tuesday night at Comerica Park, the Tigers trailing the Royals in the third. Jones leads off the inning against Kyle Zimmer and can't duck a fastball riding up and in. It drills him square in that shield over his cheek. Jones looks stunned. 

"I was pissed off," he said. "I was debating whether to go out there."

Instead of charging the mound, Jones walks slowly to first. He comes around to score on a Jonathan Schoop home run and the Tigers take the lead with a four-run rally. But Jones is still mad. Typically a chatterbox, he doesn't talk to anybody for the next hour. One night and two wins later, he says he's "over it."

"It’s kind of scary, because when you throw up and in and hit someone in the helmet it can be life-threatening and dangerous. So in that moment it just sucks, but I’m fine now," Jones said. "We got some W’s, so if we keep doing that I’ll be happy." 

And he'd be lying if he said he didn't revel in the revenge: "I had to pay them back a little bit, so that felt good." 

It all feels good for Jones at the moment, his swing, his health, his confidence. If this is his last chance to show the Tigers he can be their everyday center fielder, he's off to a great start. He had a feeling this was coming. Now we'll see where it goes.