Jones throws side session in bullpen
Enduring tough spring, closer works on building arm strength
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Todd Jones likes to pitch the ninth inning, even in Spring Training games, to simulate game intensity. To work out his issues, though, Tuesday was about as far from late-game intensity as he could get.
Jones had originally been scheduled to pitch in Tuesday afternoon's split-squad game against the Reds. Instead, he was in the bullpen Tuesday morning under the watchful eye of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and bullpen coach Jeff Jones. He isn't injured, but after two rough outings in the span of a week, he had some issues to address. Throwing outside of a game, coaches decided, was the best way to do that.
"I'm not too scientific," Jones said. "I'm a country boy from Georgia. I get in the bullpen and figure it out, and take those approaches out there on the field."
The main issues they came out with, Jones said, was that his arm strength isn't where he needs it to be. But when he pitches in a game, he has tried to get to his normal strength by overthrowing, and his command suffers.
"You take it for granted when you're young," he said. "Now I have to consciously do things to try to get some sort of arm strength, and it's harder to get these days. ... The ball's coming out OK, but it's with more effort. But that just comes with spring. You can still execute pitches. They're just not as crisp as they need to be."
Much of the suffering has come in the last few outings. In his third appearance of the spring, Jones allowed six runs on five hits in his one inning last Tuesday against the Astros. He recovered to toss a scoreless inning Friday against the Braves, but then allowed three earned runs on four hits to the Pirates in two-thirds of an inning Monday. That raised his ERA for the spring to 24.55 over four outings, covering 3 2/3 innings.
Jones emphasized that it wasn't a panic situation, and that Tuesday's session was not a panic move.
"I've pitched for my life," Jones said. "I don't think I'm going to be pitching for my life Thursday."
Thursday would be when he's next slated to pitch in a game, that coming against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Jones' setup man, Fernando Rodney, also had been expected to pitch a bullpen session Tuesday, which would've been his first pitches off of a mound since he felt tendinitis in his shoulder in the early days of camp last month. After debating the matter, however, coaches decided to have him throw one more session of long-toss off flat ground.
Rodney threw from 60 feet before stretching it out to a longer distance, then ended it throwing to Ryan Raburn from a catching position. He felt fine afterwards and should be free to throw a side session later in the week.
Left-hander Clay Rapada, meanwhile, felt upbeat Tuesday morning after throwing a five-minute bullpen session on Monday. He threw mostly fastballs and changeups in his first mound session since the second week of camp, when he experienced soreness in his shoulder. He'll likely throw all of his pitches in a longer session Wednesday or Thursday.
Barring any setbacks, Rapada is on track to pitch in games next week. It comes too late for him to try to a win a spot in Detroit's bullpen, but he's on track to have enough time to leave an impression and be ready for the start of the Triple-A season in Toledo.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.