Jones, Bullpen Combine to Lead Dogs to Victory
By Jack Ankony, The Chicago Dogs
After losing three relievers and one starter to MLB organizations in a one-week span, there were questions about how the Dogs would replace that talent.
In Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Kane County Cougars, answers emerged. AJ Jones made his second professional start on Saturday night and kept the Dogs in control of the game thanks to his ability to induce ground balls and an effective changeup.
Jones’ tossed 5.2 innings, seven hits, two earned runs, two walks and three strikeouts. He was cruising through five scoreless innings, but ran into trouble in the sixth as he struggled to stay ahead in the count. Jones said he had a similar problem against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in his professional debut last week, but it has served as a good learning experience for the 2021 UCF graduate.
“I think [I have learned] to just keep the attack mentality of get ahead, keep the ball low and gets lots of ground balls,” Jones said.
Jones said from his first start to his second, the biggest adjustment was using his changeup more frequently. Compared to pitching in college, Jones said hitters in the American Association are looking for their pitch and will make pitchers pay if the spot is missed.
“If you make a mistake here it’s getting hit,” Jones said. “Whereas in college you can get away with that a lot more, especially with elevated pitches.”
Through two starts, Jones is starting to build confidence on the mound as he makes the quick transition from college to professional baseball. Jones said it has been nice to feel the support of the fans at Impact Field, which has helped with his confidence.
Jones has been called on as the replacement for Connor Grey, who was signed by the New York Mets last week, but it has been a team effort from the bullpen to replace Tyler Ferguson, Kevin Marnon and Paul Schwendel.
Most recently, it has been the lefty Jeff Kinley as the Dogs new late-inning reliever. In Saturday’s win, Kinley pitched the final two innings, allowing one hit, one unearned run and three strikeouts.
Kinley has been one of the Dogs more reliable bullpen arms, boasting a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings. His recent success has been due to a stronger command of his fast ball, which, in turn, makes his changeup and slider more effective.
As Kinley moves into more of a late-inning role, he said there hasn’t been too much of an adjustment. He is comfortable making long-relief appearances and short outings in any situation. But no matter when Butch Hobson calls his name, the approach is the same for Kinley.
“Obviously later in the game everything gets amplified a little bit,” Kinley said. “But same mentality, just go out there and compete and throw strikes and just get after it.”
Kinley’s changeup has been especially deadly this year, as he has struck out 28 batters across 23 innings. The changeup has helped Kinley stay ahead in the count and keep hitters off balance.
Kinley and Jones kept the Kane County lineup at bay for the majority of Saturday’s game and have stepped up in important situations in lieu of recent MLB signings. Because of their efficiency on the mound, home runs from Anfernee Grier and Johnny Adams were enough to seal the deal on Saturday.
Jordan Kipper will take the mound for the Dogs on Sunday, looking to even the series with Kane County at two games apiece.