Ausmus retains Jones, adds Clark to coaching staff
Tigers seeking at least one hitting coach, have three other job openings for 2014
DETROIT -- Jeff Jones is staying.
Actually, the Tigers' pitching coach never thought about leaving. As long as new manager Brad Ausmus wanted him around, he was on board.
It didn't take long for Ausmus to realize he was a guy worth keeping. Less than 72 hours after Ausmus was introduced as Detroit's new manager, Jones was reintroduced as the pitching coach in a news release, along with new third-base coach/outfield instructor Dave Clark.
"I never really thought about [leaving]," Jones said Wednesday from his Detroit area home. "I'm perfectly content here and I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to stay. It's a difficult situation for a young manager, and I knew Brad from when he played here."
Two of Jones' five stints as Detroit's bullpen coach coincided with Ausmus' second tenure as a Tigers catcher, so there was a working relationship between the two. While Ausmus wanted to talk with Jones first before selecting his pitching coach, he was believed to be the leading candidate, not because of their history but because of the Tigers' pitching dominance under Jones' leadership.
It's no coincidence the two talked Sunday night, just a few hours after Ausmus' first news conference.
In 2 1/2 seasons as pitching coach, Jones has overseen a rotation that has blossomed into baseball's best. He has been a mentor for Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, and became a trusted voice for Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez after they came over in midseason trades.
"He does a terrific job," former manager Jim Leyland said earlier this year. "He's like a mother hen to them; he protects them. He's a nice buffer between me and the pitchers, which is very important. He's very supportive of me and my decisions. He's really done a whale of a job, to be honest with you."
Under Leyland, Jones was the pitching guru who prepared the staff for whatever role the veteran manager wanted to use them. It'll be interesting to see whether that role morphs. While Ausmus has handled a pitching staff as a catcher, he has never been the decision-maker, and he acknowledged Sunday that handling the staff will be one of the most important facets of his job.
"The handling of the pitching staff, and the bullpen in particular, any manager will tell you that's the most difficult part of the game, the actual game," Ausmus said Sunday. "The handling of the bullpen, making sure guys aren't getting up, throwing and sitting down [repeatedly], not getting into the game, keeping track of how many pitches they've thrown, how many days in a row they've thrown, I think part of it becomes easier when you're communicating with these pitchers in the bullpen, whether they're assigned roles or not.
"The problems [for] managers that I've played for that revolved around the bullpen has to do with more communication. I think you can calm that storm."
Under Leyland, much of that work of tracking how many times relievers have warmed up, how many pitches and days they've thrown, was assigned to Jones and bullpen coach Mike Rojas. Jones said responsibilities weren't a topic of conversation.
"When we talked the other night, we talked about a lot of pitchers, position players," Jones said, "but we didn't really get into a lot about what he wants. If he wants a lot of input, I'll give him a lot."
However, Jones doesn't believe the inexperience is going to be a huge issue for Ausmus.
"I really like Brad," Jones said. "He's a great baseball guy and obviously a very intelligent guy. I like his intensity. I like everything about him. He played the game and he played hard. He played with a desire to win."
Jones signed a two-year contract, the same as Clark and bench coach Gene Lamont.
Clark joins the Tigers from Houston, where he spent the 2013 season as first-base coach under manager Bo Porter after spending four years as the Astros' third-base coach. He was let go at season's end and was on track to return to managing at Double-A Huntsville in the Brewers' farm system before he had two chances to join a big league staff.
While Clark was in talks with the Tigers this week, he also was expected to get an offer to join Seattle under new manager Lloyd McClendon. Clark was McClendon's hitting coach in Pittsburgh in 2001 and '02. After finding success managing in the Pirates' and Astros' farm systems, he joined Cecil Cooper's staff in Houston in 2009 and carried over to manager Brad Mills' staff.
Clark also has ties to Leyland, playing 4 1/2 seasons with the Pirates as part of a 13-year Major League career.
The moves leave the Tigers needing at least one hitting coach -- they had two last season -- plus first-base, bullpen and infield coaches. Though Ausmus has kept two coaches from Leyland's staff, he's expected to look at other candidates for the remaining spots.