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Nate Jones back to fill key role in White Sox bullpen

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nate Jones has his life in order again, not that it ever went off the rails – except for the baseball part when a string of injuries threw his career into a tizzy for one and a half years.

Twenty months removed from Tommy John surgery, the tall Kentucky teddy bear right-hander is reaching back and occasionally touching 100 mph again.

“It’s a good place to be,’’ Jones said.

Having Jones in place, likely as an eighth inning setup man, gives needed order to the Sox bullpen. In a bullpen with a proven closer in David Robertson and numerous proven parts but not many power arms, Jones is the cut out to be a high leverage seventh- or eighth-inning guy, which means plenty of pressure.

Bring it on, Jones said.

“Oh absolutely. I love those situations,’’ he said. “A responsibility for the team. That’s huge. That’s what your team is counting on me for in that situation and I want to be there for them.

“When you get in there I feed off the emotion of the game, the crowd, the atmosphere. And if guys are on base it makes me lock in even more. I love that situation. That’s what we’re here for. We want to be there to pass it on to D-rob, you know?’’

Jones, 8-0 with a 2.39 ERA as a rookie in 2012, regressed to a 4.15 ERA in 2013, didn’t pitch in 2014 and pitched to a 3.32 ERA when he came back for 19 appearances last season. Over 19 innings, he struck out 27 and walked six.

It was a relief to be “back,” but Jones says through hip, back and eventually right elbow issues that led to surgery, he never lost sight of the big picture – thanks to wife Lacy and their two young children, including the baby born halfway through his time away from the Sox.

“Aw, absolutely,’’ Jones said. “With them, you can never have a bad day. If you have the worst one and you see those kids screaming, ‘Daddy!’ when you walk in the door, you forget everything because it’s a different world. And it’s a different light that they bring to the family, that’s for sure.’’

Jones’ son, Archer, is 11 months old.

“It’s funny just how goofy he is,’’ Jones said. “When I get to spend time with just him when his sister is away, he’s a goofball. Smiling all the time, laughing at everything, learning new stuff. … It’s a great time.

“It’s an awesome situation having kids. It was a little scary at first, but it’s all good now. We’re very fortunate.’’

Jones feels beyond fortunate to have the TJ surgery in his rearview mirror.

“I got over that rehab, got a good rest this offseason and came back 100 percent, like one of the guys, regular like nothing happened,’’ he said.

“I would say [the arm] is the same. Coming in ‘14 and ‘15 I was injured and rehabbing but now I feel like I did before the surgery.’’

In four Cactus League appearances, Jones has allowed only one hit over four scoreless innings, walking one while striking out four.

This is a good thing for the Sox.

“It’s an important piece,’’ said manager Robin Ventura, who also has left-hander Zach Duke [six scoreless appearances this spring] for similar situations depending on matchups. “You have that power arm back there that you can feel comfortable using multiple days. There was a bit of fatigue in there once he got back [last year] and he got through it.’’