Jones looks to save his best for last
Right-hander a strong candidate to fill the vacant closer role the White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Whether it's in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning -- or any other time of the game -- Nate Jones knows what he needs to do: get outs and put up zeroes. That being said, he knows what kind of weight the ninth inning carries.
The right-hander has been one of the White Sox most reliable bullpen arms in two full Major League seasons, appearing in 135 games and posting a 3.31 ERA over 149 2/3 innings. He doesn't have a save in his Major League career, but 2014 could be the year when he adds that statistic to his résumé.
"Everybody puts a lot of pressure on the last three outs and that's the reason -- it's the last three," Jones said. "That's the difference. You know you're the closer and you're going in with the lead and the other team's going to be putting their best guys there and grinding those at-bats just to try to win the game, as well.
"That's why everybody says it's the toughest three, because it's the last three."
The last two years, Jones has been one of the primary relievers tasked with setting up Addison Reed to handle that role in the ninth. But with Reed gone after a trade to the D-backs, it has freed up that job for Jones or another group of pitchers -- Daniel Webb, Mitchell Boggs, Matt Lindstrom -- who the White Sox are considering.
Reed and Jones were locker mates last season, and just spending time around Reed taught Jones one thing above all else -- in order to close, you need a short memory.
"If [Reed] happened to have a bad night, he was out there the next night doing what he always does, which is going out there to attack," Jones said. "You have to have that short-term memory."
Lindstrom is the only other incumbent candidate -- he appeared in 76 games last year, posting a 3.12 ERA -- but also does not have a save in a White Sox uniform. Most of the candidates have dealt with some kind of setback during the competition. Lindstrom has not pitched in a Cactus League game because of a strained left oblique. Belisario arrived late in camp because of visa issues. Webb returned home for a week to deal with a personal matter, and Jones is bouncing back from a left glute strain.
"Everything's been going good," Jones said of the comeback from the injury. "I haven't felt any discomfort at all while I'm pitching, or any effects after or the next day. Hopefully it keeps going like this but I'm pretty sure I have no worries about it."
Those issues are partly the reason why the White Sox have elected not to name a closer at this point in camp. Pitching coach Don Cooper said last week "to even talk about the closer, it's premature," and that when everyone is healthy, there are multiple guys who can handle the role.
"You've still got to get three outs, still got to put up a zero," Jones said of that role. "As a reliever that's what all our jobs are, no matter which [inning] we get, you still want to put up those three outs and put a zero up. It doesn't really change too much."
Jones has been putting up zeroes this spring. The righty made his fifth Cactus League appearance on Monday against the Brewers, posting another scoreless inning. He's yet to allow a run.
"He hasn't pitched a whole lot. He has velocity, we know that," manager Robin Ventura said. "You know what you're going to get with Nate. He can throw one inning. He can throw three innings. He throws really hard and does have good control on the offspeed stuff. He just needs to get back up."
Jones threw his customary eighth inning Monday. Whether he gets the ninth this season is still to be determined. But he'd relish that role.
"You want that responsibility on the team," Jones said. "They trust you to get those last three outs. That's a cool feeling."