CLEVELAND -- When it comes to his recovery from elbow surgery, Nate Jones feels as if he’s like any other pitcher in the big leagues.
Now two years and two weeks removed from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox right-hander can be used on three straight days. He can pitch multiple innings. About the only thing the White Sox won’t do is ask Jones to warmup twice in the bullpen during the same game.
It’s a spot Jones wasn’t sure he’d ever reach when he returned to the majors last August. But here he is and look what Jones has developed into.
Not only has Jones -- 5-2 with three saves and a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings -- continued to strike out more than a hitter per inning, he has harnessed his command of the zone and drastically improved his walk rate.
“Right away last year I was kind of battling a little bit of soreness each time I threw,” Jones said. “But the further we got away from the surgery the better I recovered. This year I haven’t had any problems or major soreness or anything like that. I can tell how much more quickly I bounce back than right out of the gate last year.
“I’m just a regular guy.”
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Perhaps on the injury front he’s a regular guy, but Jones has developed into a formidable late-innings pitcher. Several major league scouts said Jones’ improved command of the fastball and slider has turned him into an outstanding setup man and potentially a closer.
Headed into this season, Jones walked 3.58 walks batters per nine innings, including four per in 2012. This season, Jones has averaged 2 walks per nine. He attributes it to applying some of the lessons he learned early in his career and credits many of his former veteran teammates for helping him to make the adjustment.
“It’s always good to have that foundation,” Jones said. “I’ve just learned what they taught me and applied it to now because in ’14 and ’15 I had a lot of time to think about it.
“Just attacking hitters and getting ahead with strike one. That’s the biggest thing, if you get ahead and stay ahead you can attack and go after the hitters instead of, if you’re falling behind, you have to throw strikes and they know that and that’s when they start hitting.”
Jones is on pace to appear in a career-high 76 games this season.
He broke through the scar tissue last season and hasn’t experienced the same soreness when he’s on the mound in 2016. Still, White Sox manager Robin Ventura remains cautious with Jones. He said one of the reasons he doesn’t like to ask him to warm up more than once in the bullpen is he doesn’t want to jeopardize Jones’ career.
“You’re always going to be very careful, especially the guy who is high velocity and has the ability to do the things and be available as much as Nate is,” Ventura said. “So you are careful, as far as if he feels anything or is tired, you monitor his usage.”
Jones is pleased to be in this position. He wasn’t sure what to expect as he rehabbed from his July 30, 2014 surgery. He just trusted what doctors, trainers and teammates who’d had Tommy John told him and worked hard.
Now he has seen the benefits.
“You’re always wondering is it ever going to go away? Or am I going to be sore throughout my career constantly?” Jones said. “That goes through your mind a little. But you’ve got to trust the process and keep working hard at it and it has worked out this year.
It’s a long process. Trust the process and you get out of it what you put into it, so bust your ass every day and it will show in the end.”