GLENDALE, Ariz. — Right-hander Nate Jones is planning on being an important piece at the back of the White Sox bullpen, and he’s not going to waste any time getting after it. He’s sure he’ll be ready by Opening Day.
“Absolutely,” Jones said Tuesday, one day before White Sox pitchers and catchers officially report to spring training at Camelback Ranch.
Jones and most of the other Sox pitchers are already here, and Jones, who had nerve repositioning surgery on his right elbow last June, said he has thrown seven or eight bullpen sessions leading to camp. He threw off a mound Tuesday with Matt Davidson tracking pitches in a batter’s box.
“I was warning him, like ‘Hey man that’s the first time someone has stepped in this year,’ ” Jones said, smiling. “It was nice to get that little head start.”
Jones has been a valuable, high-leverage situation reliever — when healthy — since he burst on the Sox scene with an 8-0 record and 2.39 ERA his rookie 2012 season. But the 31-year-old has been sidelined periodically by an array of significant injuries. In 2014, he underwent back surgery in May 5 and Tommy John surgery in July and didn’t pitch again till August, 2015.
He pitched to a 2.29 ERA over 71 appearances in 2016 but was limited to 11 games last season.
Having a healthy Jones with new closer acquisition Joakim Soria and perhaps Juan Minaya (nine saves last season) and possibly one of the Sox’ non-roster invitees with closer experience (Jeanmar Gomez, Bruce Rondon) in the Sox’ late-inning mix should position the bullpen to start the season with acceptable depth.
Jones, who possesses upper-90s mph fastball and a formidable slider as well as a decent changeup, says he is not holding anything back despite his injury history.
“I understand that, but luckily enough my mentality is I’m giving it everything I’ve got no matter what,” he said. “Sometimes it ends up in surgeries but at least I can walk away knowing I gave it 100 percent. And so that [mental] hurdle really wasn’t there for me. Because I’m going to give it everything I’ve got no matter how good or how bad it’s feeling.”
Jones was released from the rehab phase of his recovery in December, “and from then on, I am just a regular guy.”
It feels odd referring to him as an elder statesman, but Jones has been with the Sox longer than anyone in the clubhouse. He likes the vibe in the clubhouse, and rebuild or not, will embrace the notion that the Sox can outperform most early projections for 2018.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a different environment and [manager] Ricky’s [Renteria] is creating that from the top. He wants us to realize what it takes to be a playoff contender year in, year out and it starts now. It started last year with his first year, getting us all together and bonded. Everybody’s talked about how tight knit of a group it is, and it is and it’s something we’ve bought into and it’s something we’re going to need to do win.”