GLENDALE, Ariz. — Picking up Nate Jones’ $4.65 million option for 2019 was anything but a no-brainer for the White Sox, and Jones knew it.
What the Sox did know was, when healthy, Jones provides valuable back-end bullpen stuff.
What they don’t know is whether Jones will be healthy. They haven’t been able to count on a healthy Jones from year to year.
“I was injured for a good portion of last season, and you never know,’’ Jones said. “Sometimes the team wants you back, and sometimes they don’t. I was fortunate they did. I proved to them [in 2018] that when I’m healthy, I’m still Nate.’’
If he’s still Nate as the Sox know him at his best, manager Rick Renteria will have a sound trio of right-handers at the back of their bullpen to mix and match with, with proven eighth- and ninth-inning power arms Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, both offseason acquisitions.
Colome was acquired for catcher Omar Narvaez in a trade with the Mariners, and Herrera signed a two-year deal as a free agent. Herrera ($8.5 million), Colome ($7.325 million) and Jones are the third-, fifth- and seventh-highest-paid Sox on the payroll, so they had better get some production from the trio.
“It’s great to have all three of those guys,” Renteria said Monday. “Nate is going to give us some flexibility. I hope I can slot him into one particular area, but I also want to have the flexibility to use them all in certain situations, which, depending on matchups, allows us to maximize what we can do.’’
When healthy, Jones has been effective in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. In 217 career games, he owns a 3.11 ERA with 308 strikeouts in 281 innings, including 33 games last season in which he struck out 32 in 30 innings while posting a 3.00 ERA.
But his upper-90s fastball and put-away slider have been available in on-again, off-again fashion from year to year — 65 appearances as a rookie in 2012, 70 in 2013 and 71 in 2016 but no more than 33 in his other four seasons because of injuries.
In 2018, it was a pronator muscle strain; in 2017, ulnar-nerve repositioning surgery on the right elbow. In 2014, it was a microdiscectomy procedure to alleviate back discomfort. And Tommy John surgery.
When Jones was right, “he’s been for me a classic fireman putting out fires mid-game when things could potentially get out of hand,’’ Renteria said.
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Jones brought his wife and three children to Arizona on Jan. 2 and began working with training staff and strength coaches “to give myself the best possible chance to be healthy a full year.’’ Almost two months later, he said his body “feels really good.”
“Getting out here early was good, not just for my shoulder and elbow but my back, legs and upper body to give everything the best possible chance to be healthy that full year,” he said.
At 33, Jones has been around the Sox’ clubhouse longer than anyone else. And it seems like yesterday when the Kentuckian stood outside the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, calling his family to share the news he made the team out of spring training. That was in 2012.
“There was a whole lotta hootin’ and hollerin’ going on,” Jones said at the time.
“It’s so much different now than my first day, for sure,” Jones said Sunday. “It’s exciting to still be around and still be wanted. To be a part of the team and have a role. This is an awesome experience.
“It seems like yesterday I was on the other end of it when it was my first day. Now I get to see the new guys coming up and getting to see the looks on their faces.’’