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 Sox pitchers and catchers officially report to spring training at Camelback Ranch.
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Jones and most of the other pitchers are already here, and Jones, who had nerve repositioning surgery on his right elbow last June, has thrown seven or eight bullpen sessions leading into 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 onto the Sox’ scene with an 8-0 record and 2.39 ERA in his rookie season in 2012. But the 31-year-old has been sidelined periodically by an array of significant injuries. In 2014, he had back surgery in May and Tommy John surgery in July and didn’t pitch again until August, 2015.
He had a 2.29 ERA over 71 appearances in 2016 but was limited to 11 games last season.
Having a healthy Jones, along with new closer acquisition Joakim Soria, perhaps Juan Minaya (nine saves last season) and possibly one of the Sox’ non-roster invitees with closer experience (Jeanmar Gomez, Bruce Rondon) added to the late-inning mix, should give the bullpen depth to start the season.
Jones, who possesses a fastball in the upper 90s and a formidable slider as well as a decent changeup, 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 seems 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, and rebuild or not, he is embracing the notion that the Sox can outperform early 2018 projections.
Expect the Sox to be expired by critics. PECOTA has pegging them for a 73-89 record, while two oddsmakers recently have set over/under propositions at 66.5 wins.
“It’s awesome,’’ Jones said of the feeling in the clubhouse, despite coming off a 95-loss season in the first year of the rebuild. “It’s a different environment and [manager] Ricky [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 to win.”
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