After 16 months away because of back injury and then Tommy John surgery, Jones made an impressive return to a major-league mound. While most of his fastballs were clocked at 99 mph, he did reach triple digits once on the stadium scoreboard Friday night.
Jones hasn’t thrown that hard since 2013, the difference being that he looked a little more free and easy with his velocity than he did two years ago. Jones credits some mechanical adjustments for getting him back on track after his right elbow was surgically repaired.
Jones essentially toyed with the Kansas City Royals in his one inning of work. He played off that 100 mph fastball with a 91 mph changeup and channeled all the excitement of his return into his pitching.
“The adrenaline was definitely there, but I talked to [coach Bobby Thigpen] out in the bullpen before I came in and [pitching coach Don Cooper] the day of and the day before, just talking about using that energy in a good way, bringing it toward the glove, and that’s all I was concentrating on, that mitt and giving everything I’ve got toward it.”
If Jones continues to pitch well, a set-up man role is in his future. But the White Sox will take their time instead of forcing that development.
“Well, you have to see when he can get back in there and feel comfortable throwing like that [again],” manager Robin Ventura said. “You know the first time going back out there he’s going to be up around 100 mph just because of his heart rate and being back on the field. It comes back to throwing strikes and doing it over multiple days and back to back and stuff like that.”
Every step of the rehab process had its rewards for Jones. When he was pitching simulated games in Arizona, it helped him to realize he could trust his arm and pitch pain free. When he was at Single-A Winston Salem on his rehab assignment, it was about knowing he could hit triple digits again. When he closed out the rehab process at Triple-A Charlotte, he found his command.
“With each outing, you get more and more confidence knowing you can be here and belong here and do my best to try to stay here,” he said.
As far as becoming a set-up man with some 100 mph gas in his back pocket, Jones will be patient, just like the team.
“No, I don’t worry about that one,” Jones said when asked about hitting triple-digits on the radar gun. I just worry about making sure I’m healthy after each pitch and just going and trying to throw strikes.”