Garrett Jones making most of his extended spring-training stay
Craig Monroe beats the throw to second base as Boston Red Sox second baseman Ivan Ochoa is late with the tag in the fourth inning yesterday in Fort Myers, Fla.
Jeff Karstens had a rough outing yesterday against Boston, giving up four earned runs, walking three and surrendering a three-run homer to Jason Varitek. Karstens is a candidate to be the fifth starter in the Pirates rotation this season
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Garrett Jones knows this place, but not this time. He spent parts of four early springs with the Minnesota Twins 9 miles down Metro Parkway at the Lee County Sports Complex, playing crosstown Boston often. Yet here he was yesterday at the Red Sox's City of Palms Park, starting for the Piratesin the midst of his longest major league spring-training stint yet.
"This is the deepest I've gone in spring," said the burly first baseman-outfielder, referring to the calendar rather than going deep with the baseball -- something he has done three times thus far. "I cleared waivers last year, probably around this time."
The Twins waived him on this date a year ago, manager Ron Gardenhire predicting that this 6-foot-4, 245-pound specimen "won't make it through" without another team claiming him. No one did. The Twins sent him back to Class AAA Rochester without ever recalling him. He batted .279 with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs. Became a free agent in November. Signed with the Pirates Dec. 27. Look at him now.
He started yesterday as the major league leader in spring-training runs, with 15, fifth in the Grapefruit League in slugging percentage, at .667, and sixth in on-base percentage, at .457.
But most important, he started yesterday, which is considerable to a guy with 61 major league games in 10 pro years.
"This is the best spring I've had," Jones said before he went 0 for 4 and stranded four baserunners yesterday in a 11-4 loss to Boston, leaving him with a .326 average with 3 homers (third on the team), 8 RBIs (third), 7 walks (third), 4 strikeouts and 26 total bases in 43 at-bats. "Usually I'm a slow starter, as far as spring training goes. I just wanted to come to spring ready to attack and try to show them what I can do, instead of trying to find your swing for the season."
Obstructing his path to Minnesota was former MVP first baseman Justin Morneau, hard-hitting outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young, plus a capable designated hitter in Jason Kubel. Jones just kept clubbing home runs -- 81 in four Class AAA seasons -- and each year improved on his strikeout totals. Come last winter, he sought a different environment.
He heard about the Pirates' youth from Tom Gorzelanny, with whom he played at age 12 on a suburban Chicago touring team, and other former minor league buddies.
The Pirates appeared to have an open competition for a bench spot, but then signed left-handed hitting Eric Hinske a month later.
Still, Jones said: "A new team. A new start. New faces. New coaching philosophies. Just kind of a change of scenery. I think that helps sometimes. ...
"It's an exciting time. It's a young team. Hopefully [you] try to just make a name for yourself ... and make the team. I feel like I fit in well here. It kind of reminds me of the Twins. They bring guys up in the organization. They have a lot of young talent, too. It's just a matter of letting that young talent come together, play well as a team. We could definitely have a great season."
Pirates hitting coach Don Long remembers Jones being a run producer -- 92 RBIs in three of his past five stops -- rather than being the typical homer-or-strikeout kind of big man.
"We've just tried to get him to free himself up and be more of an athlete in the box," Long said. "Don't let pitch location dictate what your body and head do. In other words, if the ball's going to be a ball down below the zone, stay in a strong position, see it down. Instead of trying to sink down to go get it. He's making strides. He wants to make an impression and do well."
Jones is a realist, though.
"Yeah, I think [Class AAA] is most likely," he said of his Pirates future come April. "But you never know. Hopefully, you open some eyes and do well enough to where they can't send you down, that you can help the ballclub win right away. We'll see."
First Published March 21, 2009 12:00 am