Pirates' Jones says he needs to simplify his approach
SAN FRANCISCO — Perhaps the worst thing that happened to Garrett Jones this season occurred June 2, when he became just the second player in PNC Park history to smash a home run, on the fly, into the Allegheny River.
Jones is batting .205 in the second half of the season. He entered Thursday batting .133 in August. The Pirates' first baseman said his struggles are rooted in a common ailment among hitters: he's trying to pull too many pitches. Perhaps Jones has tried too often to repeat the trajectory of his June 2 home run.
What Jones is trying to avoid in San Francisco is targeting baseball's other body of water reachable by batted ball: McCovey Cove, a nickname for the portion of San Francisco Bay beyond the right-field wall at AT&T Park.
“I'm getting a little pull happy,” the left-handed hitting Jones said. “It can come trying to hit a home run every time, just trying to get the barrel out there. I think with me, timing is an issue. My body is getting into the swing and causing my bat to be long. Sometimes I'm thinking I have to pull to get the barrel out there, and it's taking me off the pitch. It's just a matter of changing the process.”
With Neil Walker's bat awakened, Jones is now the team's most under-performing bat, so much so that there's growing sentiment for the Pirates to try and improve their right side corner positions by making a trade for Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who has cleared waivers.
But barring an external addition, the best chance for the Pirates' offense to improve is for Jones to get back to performing at his 2012 level, when he hit 27 home runs with a .271 average and .516 slugging mark.
Jones is batting .239 this season with 11 home runs, and his strikeouts have risen significantly from 20 percent of plate appearances last season, to 23.3 percent season. Jones, who is most analytical hitter on the team, is trying to simplify his approach.
“It's about staying on the ball, seeing it deep, hit some line drives,” Jones said. “Get back to the middle of the field. Keep it simple.”
While counter-intuitive, perhaps damp marine layer air and spacious West Coast ballparks can help Jones. Because it's difficult to elevate and drive the ball on the West Coast at night, line-drive hitting and targeting the opposite-field gaps is a more effective approach at AT&T Park and Petco Park. The Pirates did a better job of using the gaps at offense-depressing San Diego on Tuesday, hitting three triples, all to the gaps.
“All our hits were to the big part of the field (Tuesday at San Diego), opposite field,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It's something we've been working on.”
Jones believes he can correct his swing and boost a Pirates offense that continues to often be a liability.
“I'm confident I'll get it going. It's just a matter of time, getting my timing back.” Jones said. “You feel that one swing, and sometime it just clicks.”