Jones the difference-maker for Tigers pitching
OCT 20, 2012 3:11p ET
“Jeff is a very mature and intelligent baseball man,” said Orel Hershiser, the ESPN analyst and former major-league star who played in college with Jones at Bowling Green. “I was a freshman and he was a team leader who helped me so much in school. He had a big impact on me.
“He coaches a lot like Jim Leyland, who I think has had a big impact on Jeff. I see a lot of Jim’s traits in Jeff. He understates his role and will not take credit, and Jeff has a real self-deprecating sense of humor. This staff is very prepared and nothing surprises them because of Jeff. But you can be distracted and not notice how great a job he’s done because of how he presents himself.”
Jones’ ability to game-plan for hitters is his strong suit, but he also excels in correcting mechanics and connecting as a friend.
"You can give a lot of guys who are good in one area. This guy does it all – he is a complete coach," said Leyland. "He covers all the bases, and that is what makes him so special."
Tigers starters had a stretch of 30 1/3 scoreless innings broken by the Yankees, but still posted a 0.66 ERA in an ALCS sweep. Left-handed reliever Phil Coke put his struggles behind him to register two saves and make all the difference after closer Jose Valverde was hit hard and sent to the sidelines to work with Jones.
“I’m thrilled for them all,” Jones said. “The guys have pitched so well, and picked it up the last half of the season.
“A lot of things go into this success. It starts with the advance scouts doing a great job, and we put together real solid gameplans for every hitter they will face. But they need to execute those plans, and our pitchers have done that.”
Jones, 56, replaced Rick Knapp as the pitching coach on July 3, 2011, and had been the club’s bullpen coach since 2007. The Southgate native has spent 35 seasons in professional baseball, and pitched for Billy Martin and the Oakland A’s (1980-84) while going 9-9 with a 3.95 ERA in 112 games.
He credits his college coaches – Dick Groch at St. Clair Community College and Don Purvis at Bowling Green – for impacting him along with Leyland.
“Jim treats his coaches and players like gold,” Jones said, “and has had a great influence on me. He’s the best I’ve seen at handling people.”
Successful coaching begins with trust, and Jones has built that with his pitchers.
“He can relate to anybody,” said Tigers starter Rick Porcello, who is in the bullpen for the postseason. “That’s what makes Jeff so good. Each of us has a different personality and takes in information differently.”
Watch how he interacts with his pitchers in the dugout. Doug Fister put his arm around Jones during a recent conversation, and 2011 Cy Young Award winner and MVP Justin Verlander is clearly attentive during confabs.
“Jeff has the ability to say things when they need to be said,” Verlander said, “and not just say things when there is not a good reason. Some guys are too hands-on that way. For me, Jeff does a great job of watching and being around all of the time. I trust his thoughts and opinions, and I’ve never caught him off guard.”
Hershiser mentioned that pitchers “sniff out” coaches who “throw stuff on the wall to see if it sticks.” He said Jones’ ability to refrain from that and produce solid input is what sets him apart.
“Jonesey is the best,” said Valverde. “He gives you a lot of confidence, and takes care of you. He is helping me with what I need to do, and talks to me like a friend.”
Leyland remains non-committal on how he will use the closer-on-hold, whose 27.00 ERA in the postseason caused him to be sent to the pitching garage for repairs.
“His tempo just needed to be quicker and we’ve worked on that,” Jones said. “It’ll make a big difference for him. With Jose, he’s smart and making the adjustments he needs to make. He’s going to throw some more (Saturday) and Monday.”
The Tigers worked out Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park, and Jones said they will scrimmage with minor leaguers there Sunday. They are attempting to stay sharp before opening the World Series on Wednesday night in either San Francisco or St. Louis.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys who enjoy each other’s company and work hard,” Jones said. “We have fun together. But we’ve still got work to do. It’s all been great, but it’s not over.”
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