Jones Looking To Rebound From Rough ’09 Season

Justin Jones picked a bad year to have the worst season of his career. 

Heading into free agency after the 2009 season, Jones posted a 4-13 mark in 36 appearances for the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.  That record, combined with a 4.75 ERA, got him moved out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen…and ultimately, out of affiliated baseball for the first time in his eight seasons as a professional.

Drafted by the Cubs in the second round in 2002, the now 25-year-old lefty knows this is a crucial season for his career. 

So was that forgettable year the product of him struggling?  The product of Harrisburg not being a very good team?

“A little bit of both,” Jones said.

“We did have a rough season, and it’s tough from a pitching standpoint to have good numbers when you don’t win ballgames.  But I didn’t have my best year either, and I can’t blame it on anyone else but myself.  It was a bad time to have a bad year.”

Combine his rough year with the Senators .500 season, and it took some of the fun out of the game for the Virginia native.

“Last year was a stressful one for me on the field,” he said.

“I tried as much as possible to go out there and relax and have fun, but I had some stuff going on at home as far as having a baby on the way and just the pressure of coming out and not doing so well right at the beginning and it being my free agent year.  I felt like I had to almost be perfect at the end to try to get those numbers right, and I think mentally, that kind of hurt me a little bit.  There were a lot of ups and downs last year, but more downs.”

Following the move to the bullpen, Jones made improvements, getting his ERA down nearly a full run in the last six weeks of the season.  But, as he said, “the damage was already done.”

Overall, however, Jones’ splits are relatively similar when it comes to starting and relieving last season, which leaves just what role he’ll fill on the Patriots this year somewhat in doubt.

“As far as I’ve been told, I’m going to come in with a shot for a starting spot, and depending on how I do and who is available, they’ll go from there.  But I’d like to be a starter unless something else happens.”

Jones, who had heard of the Atlantic League prior to signing with the Patriots, feels he has a pretty good idea of what to expect in his independent baseball debut.

“I know it’s going to be pretty good competition,” Jones told me in a phone conversation.

“The competitiveness is definitely there and I’ve heard about it from some of the players I’ve played against, so I know it’s going to be a pretty good league.  The travel doesn’t sound too bad.  It seems similar to what I’m used to from a day in and day out basis.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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