Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones retires
The Tigers coaching staff, which had been expected to stay intact with manager Brad Ausmus’ return, now has a major opening. Jeff Jones, who coached two Tigers pitchers to Cy Young awards, announced his retirement Monday after spending the last five seasons as pitching coach and nine seasons on the Tigers coaching staff.
Jones turned 59 years old in July. Between his pitching and coaching careers, the Michigan native spent 38 years in baseball. He was initially expected back, but had also been weighing retirement.
“I am grateful for the opportunity the Tigers have afforded me through the years and enjoyed working on Brad’s staff and with Jim Leyland,” Jones said in a statement. “There have been some great moments that I’ll cherish especially being a lifelong Tigers fan. I’ve been contemplating this for a little while and at this point in my life I want to spend time with my family and grandchildren, and I am looking forward to it.”
Reached by phone later Monday, Jones said health issues also factored into his decision. Between knee replacement surgeries and a procedure a couple years ago to replace a couple of disks in his neck, he had been contemplating retirement since about midway through the season.
“Thirty-eight years in the game has taken its toll,” Jones said.
Born in Detroit, Jones pitched at Bowling Green before the A’s drafted him in 1977. He pitched parts of five seasons in Oakland in the early 1980s before going into coaching with the Tigers organization in 1989.
Jones coached at four different Tigers minor-league stops, including four stints as pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo. He also served as Tigers bullpen coach on five different occasions for five different managers, including Jim Leyland.
Jones finally got his chance as a Major League pitching coach when the Tigers made a midseason switch in 2011, promoting Jones from bullpen coach to replace then-pitching coach Rick Knapp.
The results were one of the greatest eras for pitching in franchise history. Justin Verlander, who was in the midst of a Cy Young and MVP season when the change was made, thrived under his watch. Max Scherzer, a gifted but mercurial pitcher for his first two seasons, blossomed into a Cy Young hurler.
“He was such a good pitching coach for me because he related to me,” Scherzer told MLB.com in a text message. “He understood what I thought and how I wanted to pitch. He helped simplify my mechanics to make me more consistent. But most importantly, he helped develop my curveball. It all started in [a bullpen session] in Cleveland and it has really helped me achieve a level of pitching I never knew I had.”
Jones also became a mentor to former Tigers first-round pick Rick Porcello, who grew from a young sinkerballer into a strikeout pitcher under Jones before being traded to Boston last offseason.
Other starters with whom Jones worked include Doug Fister, David Price and Drew Smyly.
“I was blessed over the last five years to have some tremendous pitchers,” Jones said. “It was an honor for me to work with them, and it was an honor to get into the playoffs for four straight years.”
Between Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Anibal Sanchez, Jones played a part in $592 million of pitching contracts.
“Jonesy has been a great influence on our pitchers, both the veterans and the younger arms, and was a solid complement to our big league coaching staff,” Ausmus said. “We respect his decision and wish him all the best.”
The Tigers have started a search to hire a replacement. However, the move comes at a time when Detroit’s minor-league coaching ranks are in flux. Minor-league pitching coordinator A.J. Sager, who succeeded Jones at Triple-A Toledo before moving into an organizational role a couple years ago, is likely to be the lone internal candidate. Mike Maroth, a former pitcher under Jones who spent this past season as Mud Hens pitching coach, left last month for an instructional job in the Braves organization.
One intriguing possibility is former Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty, who served as Tigers pitching coach under former manager Luis Pujols in 2002 and earned high regard in Washington from 2009 through this season.
Like Jones, McCatty is a Detroit native. He graduated from Troy High School and has an offseason home in the area. He and Jones were teammates in Oakland and served on Pujols’ staff together, when Jones was bullpen coach. The two remain close friends, and talked after Scherzer signed with Washington as a free agent last winter.
Ausmus said Monday that they’ve put together a preliminary list of candidates, including Sager, but haven’t talked to anyone yet.