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Pirates stay careful with prized rookie Jared Jones despite overpowering performance vs Mets

 The Associated Press  |    Apr 17th, 2024 12:30am EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — Although the Pittsburgh Pirates lost a close ballgame Tuesday night, they might have found their future ace.

And like it or not, they’re going to handle him with kid gloves.

Rookie right-hander Jared Jones fired five shutout innings in his fourth major league start, throwing 50 of 59 pitches for strikes during a dominant performance against the New York Mets.

“That’s a special arm,” Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said.

Featuring a 97-99 mph fastball and a nasty 90-92 mph slider, Jones struck out seven, walked none and allowed just one hit. Even he was wowed by his astounding strike-to-ball ratio.

But with the 22-year-old pitching on four days’ rest for the first time in the majors, he was pulled by manager Derek Shelton after five innings as planned.

“This kid’s really important to us, as anybody that watched will see,” Shelton said. “He was really good. When you’re really good and you make a decision like that, then people are going to wonder what’s going on. He’s healthy. He’s good. But it was something we had, going in, predetermined.”

Jones exited with a 1-0 lead. But the Pittsburgh bullpen faltered in the seventh, giving up three runs in a 3-1 defeat.

Shelton acknowledged it was difficult not to try and push Jones through six innings, especially considering how overpowering and efficient he was.

“It’s extremely hard. But you know, it’s something I think we have to stick to our process a little bit. And again, I understand how that’s frustrating to people,” Shelton said. “But again, this kid is really important to us and we have to make sure that when we put a process in place or we put a plan in place that we stick to it.”

Jones understood the decision, and Shelton said he “took it like a pro.”

“Do you want to see me down the road or do you want to see me get shut down?” Jones said. “It all makes sense to me, the way he worded it and told me. … It’s awesome that they’re looking out for me and my health.”

Jones racked up 10 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings to win his big league debut March 30 at Miami.

With the improving Pirates in what they hope are the latter stages of a long rebuild, he is 1-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 32 strikeouts against only two walks. He’s given up 16 hits in 23 innings, and had thrown anywhere from 80 to 89 pitches in each of his first three outings.

“He understands where he’s at and where we’re at,” Shelton said. “We have to make sure we take care of our pitchers.”

Jones became the fourth pitcher since 1893 (when the mound was established at its current distance from home plate) to strike out at least seven batters in each of his first four games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others were Masahiro Tanaka (2014), Stephen Strasburg (2010) and Pittsburgh right-hander José DeLeón (1983), who all had five-game streaks.

“Going out there and giving my team a chance to win — that’s what I’m most proud of. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far,” Jones said.

The lone hit off Jones was Pete Alonso’s soft leadoff double in the second, which could have been caught by a sliding Bryan Reynolds in shallow left field.

Jones generated 15 swings and misses, giving him 73 after four career starts. That’s the most for any big leaguer since pitch tracking began in 2008, MLB.com’s Sarah Langs posted on the social media platform X, citing Jason Bernard of Major League Baseball.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Jones was selected by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2020 amateur draft out of La Mirada High School in California.

A top-rated prospect coming into this season, he threw 122 2/3 innings for High-A Greensboro in 2022 and 126 1/3 innings combined at Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis last year. So the Pirates will limit his innings this season.

“I’m going to attack the same way I do for however long,” Jones said. “I threw 126 the past two years. It doesn’t make sense for me to go out and throw seven, eight, nine, you know what I mean? They want me to stay healthy and they want to limit what is going on. So it all makes sense.”

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AP freelance writer Jerry Beach contributed to this report.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb