CLEVELAND — Nate Jones can’t lose.
And he sure does win a lot. In fact, he ranks fourth on the team in pitching victories, a number you could have bet against at 1000-1 odds at the start of spring training.
Jones wasn’t even considered a strong candidate to make the team then, at least by media and casual observers, having completed one season at the AA level. But he impressed with his good stuff and for the most part, avoided the wildness that would sometimes get the 6-5, hard-throwing Kentuckian in trouble.
“He’s got a big arm,” was manager Robin Ventura’s answer every time he was asked, “So what do you like about Nate Jones?”
The day Jones survived the final cut, he made phone calls to his wife and parents.
“There was a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ goin’ on,” on the other end of his phone connection.
“To start out in spring training not knowing what would happen … ” Jones said Sunday, thinking back to that unforgettable day. “That day was awesome.
“After that they put my in right situations, I gained some confidence and it took off from there.”
Jones (8-0) owns a solid 2.40 ERA and leads American League relievers in wins, an achievement that has as much to do with timing and circumstance as good pitching.
His last win was one of the Sox’ biggest of the year, the 5-4 decision against the Tigers on Sept. 17 that gave the Sox a three-game lead. His streak of 21 scoreless appearances, which was the longest active run in the majors, came to an end Sunday.
With three games left in the season, starting with Monday night’s game against the Indians, Jones leads Sox relievers with 69 innings pitched. He has the ability to get lefthanders out (batting .174 against him) which helps him get through multiple innings, a bonus for Ventura, who has worked him hard in the last couple of weeks.
“It’s been a bigger workload with us being in the race,” Jones said. “But all that kind of went out the window because your adrenaline steps up and takes over. I still feel good, feel strong and ready to see this thing through.”
Jones was a closer at AA Birmingham last year, getting 12 saves while posting a 3.12 ERA. The previous season at Class A Winston-Salem, he started 28 games and pitched 152 innings.
“Pitching is all about your confidence,” he said. “After the first couple times out I was nervous but I got used to it and could see I could do this.”