Jones Grounds Apollos as Dogs Open Series with Victory
By Jack Ankony, The Chicago Dogs
AJ Jones walked off the mound in the eighth inning with both hands gripping his head in shock.
Dogs third baseman T.J. Bennett had just completed his second highlight-reel play of the night, a barehanded scoop followed by a laser throw to K.C. Hobson at first base. With this out, Jones was through eight innings while allowing just one hit.
While Jones ran into trouble in the ninth as the Houston Apollos began to jump on his first pitch, Jones’ third start as a professional was one to remember. Jones tossed eight innings and gave up three earned runs, four hits, zero walks and seven strikeouts to lead the Dogs to a 5-3 win on Friday night.
“When you get in a groove like that it’s one of the best feelings in baseball,” Jones said. “The defense really kept me in the game.”
Since being signed by the Dogs on June 22, Jones has worked hard to develop secondary pitches, which helped him go deep into Friday’s contest. When Jones signed with the Dogs after graduating from the University of Central Florida, he already possessed a changeup that he is comfortable throwing in any count.
But under the guidance of Dogs pitching coach Stu Cliburn, Jones’ repertoire has expanded. Jones has improved a cutter he has thrown in the past, and tonight, broke out a new pitch that kept hitters off balance. Jones said he adjusted his slider grip to become a combination of a slider and curveball.
In his first two outing for the Dogs, Jones struggled when he faced hitters for a second time, but honing in these new pitches made Jones unpredictable late in the game.
“The knowledge that is here, I’m taking full advantage of it,” Jones said. “It’s just been awesome.”
While Jones has benefitted from the advice of the Dogs coaching staff, a scary situation took place involving Cliburn on Thursday. A foul ball from a Milwaukee hitter lined sharply into the Dogs dugout and struck Cliburn in the head.
Reactions from Dogs players and coaches sent the stadium into a state of despair, but Cliburn recovered miraculously to attend Friday’s game. Though Jones has only known Cliburn for a few weeks, his mind was set on having a special performance on Friday to honor Cliburn.
“Stu loves baseball, and he’ll do anything to be here,” Jones said. “We love him so much.”
As Jones was pulled from the game in the ninth inning, he had a small feeling of disappointment that he wasn’t able to pitch all nine innings, but he is proud of the improvements he has made in his short time with the Dogs.
“Pounding the zone and having that changeup has been really effective,” Jones said. “Building off that is really cool and really exciting.”