By Paul LaTour
If anything encouraging for the White Sox came from a 5-0 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, it might be the performance of rookie reliever Nate Jones.
Jones threw 2 13 innings in a near-perfect appearance after entering for starter Chris Sale to begin the sixth inning. Jones struck out four and allowed only one hit in the longest outing of his brief career. His strikeout total is also a career high.
Jones said he has settled the nerves he experienced early in the season.
Those first couple times, Im not going to lie, I was a little bit nervous coming in, he said Sunday prior to the Sox-Royals series finale at U.S. Cellular Field. Ive calmed down a little bit and learned to trust my stuff, and do my thing out there.
In 14 13 innings spread over 10 games, Jones has a 1.26 ERA with seven walks and 14 strikeouts. He has allowed 10 hits and only two earned runs. Opponents are hitting .196 against him.
He continues to improve, manager Robin Ventura said. Thats one of the things with the young guys we have, youre bringing them into situations that you want them to gain experience and the feel for it every time they go out. You can see him gradually getting that. Im gaining a lot of confidence in putting him in different situations.
Understanding his role in the bullpen has been a big reason why he's settled down.
After the fifth, sixth inning, I know to be ready, Jones said. Every game, it doesnt matter what the score is, Ive become accustomed to being ready, getting stretched out, and being ready for that phone call.
Jones worked in spring training to incorporate a changeup and curveball into his repertoire. But he said everything still works off his fastball.
Once I get my fastball established I come in and try to throw my offspeed for strikes, he said. When I do (that) it makes it a lot harder on the hitters. It keeps them off balanced.
Jones also benefits from his relative anonymity among American League hitters. But he knows it wont be long before that changes. He said a pitcher must work to stay ahead of those adjustments.
You definitely hold an advantage because nobody has seen you before, Jones said. But once they start making that adjustment to you, you have to start adjusting as well. When that time comes, Ill do that. For now Im just going to do what I do, go out there and throw strikes.