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Jones begins first camp as pitching coach

Jones begins first camp as pitching coach

Jones begins first camp as pitching coach
LAKELAND, Fla. -- For a former Major League pitcher who had knee surgery after his playing career was over, Jeff Jones has been a man on the move all week.

For a Major League pitching coach preparing for his first Spring Training in charge of a staff with postseason expectations, his week has been the start of business as usual.

Pitchers and catchers don't start official workouts until Monday, but it was hard to tell that the way Jones moved around the clubhouse on Thursday afternoon. When he wasn't working on a pitching schedule with third-base coach and camp organizer Gene Lamont, he was talking with players about their programs. He had a lengthy talk with Daniel Schlereth about his goals, and relayed the message about how important the left-handed reliever can be to this team. He caught up with Duane Below about his program after arriving in Lakeland a month and a half ago.

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By the time manager Jim Leyland arrived at the ballpark mid-afternoon, having flown in that day, Jones already had a full day in.

Jones has waited a long time for this chance, including a dozen seasons coaching at Triple-A Toledo and six stints as Tigers bullpen coach. This Spring Training is his big chance, too.

"I would normally come down a couple of days before camp would start," Jones said earlier this week. "But this year I wanted to come down earlier and see some of the guys I haven't seen much, even some of the guys that we've had in the past. A couple of them asked me when we were at the Caravan, 'Are you coming early?' so I wanted to make sure I got down here."

Jones had a part in the last few Spring Training camps as bullpen coach. In some ways he and former pitching coach Rick Knapp were a team. Knapp, however, lives in Florida, so he could drive back and forth and be more hands-on before camp began.

This time it's Jones' operation, though he'll lean on Lamont and Leyland for their expertise. But he isn't reinventing anything. Some guys come in with a system to put in place. Jones, who took over the role in midseason last year, is very much an individual coach.

"Everybody has different things that they do as far as getting ready for the season," he said. "Everybody has kind of their own program, although I send them a throwing program, just a model throwing program which I don't expect them to follow to a 'T.' Some guys do. Other guys that have been around a little bit, they have their own way of getting ready."

Justin Verlander meticulously tailors his own program. Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer decided to move up their throwing schedules and have consulted with Jones. Others try to give their arms a rest before beginning to throw.

Jones' job is to work with them all.

"We talk," he said, "and it's not all coming from me, believe me. I want to hear what they have to say. It's not, 'You've got to do this and you've got to do that.' It's a situation where you tell them what you think, and then we'll talk about it and come up with a plan.

"I want to get to know every guy on an individual basis. That's always been important to me, to get to know what makes them tick and making sure that they're comfortable being here and being able to talk to me about anything. The communication part has always been really important for me."

It's tougher in Spring Training, when the roster is more crowded, than it is during the season, with a 12-man staff.

He knows he doesn't have to worry about Verlander, whose attention to detail last spring set up his MVP season. Now that Verlander is at the top of his profession, Jones sees the same approach this year.

He also knows the age-old concern about fatigue for aces who throw deep into a postseason. But he also knows Verlander's preparation. And unless Jones hears from Verlander, he won't worry.

"I think his attitude is just tremendous," Jones said, "because he wants it really bad. And it seems to me, just being around him a couple of times this spring so far, that he wants it as bad or worse this year than he did last year. And there's something to be said for that, after the year he had."

Jones is encouraged by what he has heard and seen from Porcello and Scherzer, and he's getting to know Doug Fister's preseason preparation. The tricky part this spring might be monitoring the handful of pitchers trying to fill the lone opening in the rotation, from young prospects Jacob Turner, Casey Crosby and Drew Smyly to the slightly more seasoned Below, Adam Wilk and Andy Oliver.

He wants to echo what Leyland has already told many of them: It's not a competition but a preparation.

"It's all going to be evaluated," he admits, "but we don't want them to put any extra pressure on themselves. We want to see them at their best. I think if they put extra pressure on themselves, they might not be at their best. And I don't want them to feel that if they have a bad outing, now [they're] out of the running, or [they] have to go out there next time and do twice as good. That's not the case, because everybody has bad outings."

Jones can relate, having pitched in Oakland's bullpen from 1980 to 1984. He remembers going through his first pro camp and not knowing a program, then getting the feel for his arm. This is a first camp again in so many ways.

And he'll be grinding through it as much as anybody.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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