All eyes have been on Andrew McCutchen’s MVP season this year with Pittsburgh. And he’s worthy of it. The center fielder has put up impressive numbers this season, but because of all the attention on McCutchen, perhaps another Pirates player that’s been having a career season has been overlooked.
Garrett Jones has put together a solid season so far with the Pirates. His average is up, hitting for a .292 clip after going 1-for-3 with a RBI and a walk in Wednesday’s series win over Houston. That’s just one point below the .293 average that Jones finished with in his impressive half season with Pittsburgh the first year he spent with the Pirates in 2009.
But Jones is not only hitting for average, he’s showing off his incredible power. Jones has the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat, and the 30-year-old has belted a career-high 23 long balls, which has surpassed his previous record of 21 he had in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010.
His success has been attributed to several things, but the main reason is just keeping it simple.
“It’s a mental thing,” hitting coach Gregg Ritchie said. “It’s really just keeping it very, very simple to where every at-bat he takes, every approach he makes, is just a very simplified approach of see the ball well, and be in a good position to hit and trust and hit what you see.”
“It’s keeping all the clutter out. A lot of hitters want to know, oh, he’s got this, he’s got that, he’s got to do this, he’s got to do that, it’s just getting in a good position to hit.”
The biggest struggle for Jones has been consistency. Last season, Jones would put together a great month of April, then drop drastically in the next. The trend continued throughout last year, and in the final two months of the season, Jones started working on some relaxation techniques to clear out the clutter at the plate.
Jones worked on keeping a simple approach and came up with a consistent routine. For some, less is more. And for Jones, it’s keeping the same routine everyday in the cage, preparation before the games, and not trying to think too much. Jones hit .284 last August, and took the same mindset into the 2012 season.
“It’s simple,” Ritchie said. “It’s lay it on the line. This is what you need to do, and you need to keep it this simple. And every time you get to a certain spot, we need to recognize that spot and go back to the simplicity of what you need to do. He asks the right questions now. Basically we work together to say, hey, don’t look at this, don’t look at that, just see the guy on the mound and be ready for the ball in the best position you can be in. When it’s up, hit.”
Jones had a rough start, with a .265 average in April and a .206 average in May. He’s been able to hit consistently every other month this season. Jones has hit for a .300 clip in June, .283 in July, .323 in August, and so far in September, the first baseman, who has also been bouncing out into right field again this year, has hit for an impressive .529 average in his first five games.
“He’s in a very good place at the plate,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s aggressive in the strike zone. I think I’ve been in that place once or twice in my career, the ball’s bigger. It’s crazy because the ball never changes size. When you’re swinging the bat the ball seems to be bigger, everything slows down…Right now, he’s seeing it right-left, spin-no spin, hard, up-down. He’s in a really good place. There’s a lot of confidence for him at the plate.”
“Just feeling comfortable,” Jones said. “Just seeing the ball well. Just relaxed, timing feels good. My path to the ball feels good. Just trying to maintain that and keep it going.”
With a clear mind at the plate, and having a good routine, Jones has been keeping his posture at the plate. It’s down and see. It’s standing tall, using his 6′ 4″ frame, just a little flex in the knees and getting his hands out in front of him. Jones has struggled with hitting lefties in the past, but has seen some improvements with southpaws on the mound as well.
“Just be in a position where you’re really stable with your feet so that your body can stay up and you can see that ball the best,” Ritchie said. “That’s allowing him to really pick up pitches better and to get his hands into action so that the barrel is just really going through the zone. It’s just always through the zone. And that’s basically all he’s doing.”
“He’s not falling into vicious chase cycles that we’ve seen in the past,” Hurdle said. “He’s staying tall at the plate and working the barrel out front. You’ve heard it all year long. He’s doing it better fashion. He’s doing it early, he’s doing it late, which has enabled him to help up on the offensive side of the ball quite dramatically.”
Jones’ month of August was his best full month to date this season. The 30-year-old belted out nine doubles, six home runs and drove in 23 RBIs over 28 games with a .323 average. Jones has been able to continue that tear into September, and another solid month could help push the Pirates into what could be an exciting month of October.
“I’m just trying to get a pitch to hit,” Jones said. “Not miss it, be aggressive. I’m just feeling loose and relaxed. It’s a combination of things. Just keeping my mind free, seeing the ball and hitting it. That’s helping me stay consistent and stay successful.”