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Thigpen feels Sox reliever Nate Jones can be something special

Updated: August 28, 2013 10:23AM



At 6-5 and 210 pounds, Nate Jones is an imposing presence with a fastball that touches 100 mph
every now and then.

White Sox bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen sees all that and — once, just once — would like to see Jones change from gentle giant to nasty boy.

‘‘I’d like to see him [ticked] off more,’’ Thigpen said before Jordan Danks capped a three-run eighth
inning with a two-run single to rally the Sox to a 4-3 victory Tuesday against the Houston Astros at U.S. Cellular Field. ‘‘More bulldog. Mad at the world when he goes out there. I’d like to see him mad at everybody, have a grudge against every hitter, try to embarrass everybody he can. And he probably could with his stuff.’’

Jones got a needed rest Tuesday after pitching five of the previous six days and eight of the last 12. His 691/3 innings rank second among American League relievers. After two rough months, Jones is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 431/3 innings since June 1.

In his second major-league season, Jones has made a fairly smooth transition to the eighth-inning setup role since Jesse Crain’s departure.

‘‘His mind-set doesn’t differ from day to day, whether he gives up a run or doesn’t,’’ Thigpen said. ‘‘In that sense, he has the right mentality for being a reliever in Chicago.’’

With no major-league experience, Jones was something of a long shot when he made the Sox’ Opening Day roster in 2012.

‘‘There was a whole lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ goin’ on,’’ Jones said of the call to his parents and wife back home in Kentucky with the news that he had beaten the odds.

Jones gave them more to shout about during the season by going
8-0 with a 2.39 ERA. When he struggled during April and May this season, talks with pitching coach Don Cooper and Thigpen got him untracked.

‘‘Guys were sitting on fastballs, anticipating and swinging like it,’’ catcher Tyler Flowers said. ‘‘So we incorporated more off-speed [stuff], especially earlier in counts to aggressive hitters and aggressive teams. That has let him shine with all the good things he can do. When you have a hard slider . . . and when you can throw 100, you can put anybody away.’’

‘‘His slider is 89 or 90 [mph],’’ Thigpen said. ‘‘Must be nice.’’

After a terrible first four months, it must be nice for the Sox to be playing their best baseball of the season. They have won nine of their last 11 games — the best record in the majors during that span — and 15 of their last 22.

Danks, who is hitting .438 during a nine-game hitting streak, had two doubles and the two-run single. Avisail Garcia and Paul Konerko each had two hits, with Konerko’s second driving in a run in the eighth.

‘‘When you get the validation of a win, that shows your hard work is
going in the right direction,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘It’s nice because there have been a lot of times this year where we haven’t done anything different than what we have been doing, and we just kept losing games.’’

Left-hander Jose Quintana pitched into the eighth inning and got his major-league-leading 16th no-decision. He struck out eight. Donnie Veal (2-3) got one out to earn the victory.

Addison Reed worked the ninth for his 36th save in 41 opportunities. He ranks fourth in the AL in saves. Reed, 24, and Jones, 27, won’t be eligible for arbitration till 2015 and won’t qualify for free agency till 2018. That’s a lot of quality back-end bullpen labor for cheap, and they’re two reliable pieces for general manager Rick Hahn to build his pen around for years to come.

‘‘In years to come, I look for [Jones] to put up some unbelievable, outstanding numbers,’’ Thigpen said. ‘‘Because with an arm like that, the more you believe in yourself, the better off you’ll be.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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