WENATCHEE — The final two pitches of Taylor Jones’ Wednesday outing against the Kitsap BlueJackets showed just how much potential the Wenatchee AppleSox hurler can bring to Gonzaga’s staff when he becomes a member of the Bulldogs’ squad next season.
With two outs in the top of the fifth inning, Jones, who led Kentwood to a 4A state title this spring, threw his best fastball of the evening, blowing a high heater by Kitsap’s Brandon Alvarez for a second strike. Then, Jones flipped a slow curveball that caught the outside corner and dipped underneath Alvarez’s swing to end the frame.
Jones’ five shutout innings were a critical component of Wenatchee’s 8-6 victory at Paul Thomas Sr. Baseball Stadium.
“I felt good,” the 6-foot-7 Jones said. “It was a relief, because I’ve been struggling all summer to find my pitches and the strike zone. It was nice to feel comfortable out there.”
In Jones’ previous start, Friday against Bellingham, he got behind in counts, looked tentative and lasted just two innings. Wednesday, he looked far more confident and composed; he threw more strikes, and quelled rallies early — he retired the first batter of the inning in four of the five frames.
“Command has been my problem all summer,” said Jones, who allowed three hits, struck out four and walked two. “But lately, I’ve been trying to relax; early on, I think I got caught up a bit with playing against older guys. Tonight I was able to calm down and (throw strikes). Coming here, I just wanted to get a feel for the college game and be a sponge and soak up everything that I can. I’ve learned that the mental game and preparation are huge. I didn’t understand before how this game can get to you, but a lot of people here have helped me prepare mentally and keep things in perspective.”
AppleSox manager Ed Knaggs said Jones could be used out of the bullpen during the team’s upcoming first-round playoff series against the Bellingham Bells, which starts Saturday. Wenatchee clinched its fifth straight West Coast League East Division title with a win over Kitsap on Tuesday.
“(Jones’) velocity was a little better in the last two innings, and he was more aggressive, going at the strike zone,” Knaggs said. “(Earlier in the summer), his arm got a little tender, and we had to shut him down for a couple of weeks, but tonight was his best outing since he got healthy.”
In hindsight, Jones’ superlative effort became even more crucial after Kitsap staged a big rally in the later innings. Wenatchee took an 8-1 lead into the eighth, but allowed four runs in the frame, and after James Kaprielian allowed a run in the ninth, the BlueJackets closed the gap to 8-6 and had the tying run on first base.
However, Jerad Casper then grounded into a double play, neatly turned by shortstop Cade Reiten and second baseman Jeff Stephens, that ended the game.
Wenatchee scored three runs in the fifth inning, a rally keyed by a Mitchell Gunsolus two-run single, to take a 4-0 lead.
The AppleSox added three more runs in the seventh thanks to run-scoring hits from Taylor Sparks (in a pinch-hitting role) and Ryan Drobny.