|Damon Jones w/ Lakewood in 2018, image- Jay Floyd|
An 18th round pick of the Phillies out of Washington State in 2017, Jones has been a solid contributor since turning pro. Initially, when he debuted with short-season A level Williamsport in 2017, he was used as a reliever, but was switched to a starting role last year with Class A Lakewood, where he went 10-7 with a 3.41 ERA over 23 outings.
This week I talked with Damon over the phone to discuss his tremendous success with the Threshers, changes to his mechanics, getting more fit over the off-season and plenty more. The complete, unabridged version of this interview featuring Jones talking about the differences between MLB and minor league baseball along with his own confidence as well as his team's offense and more is available exclusively to Patreon subscribers. Read ahead here for samples of my chat with Clearwater's ace.
-How are you feeling down there in the Florida State League?
I feel really good. (It's my) second year with (Brad Bergesen) as a pitching coach, so I'm pretty comfortable there with familiar faces, with Marty (Malloy) as my manager too and a lot of those same guys from (last year's) Lakewood squad, so I'm feeling really comfortable down here.
-The adjustment going up a level, is it kind of what you expected? I would assume so, based on the performance.
Yeah, you see some better approaches (from the opposing batters). Sometimes you get a little deeper in the counts. And then there's familiar faces that maybe you've faced some years before, but it's definitely taken a step up.
-What's the pitch menu like now for you? I remember when we talked last season, you describing your go-to pitch at that point was the fastball. Has anything changed with the arsenal and is that fastball still as reliable as it was?
Yeah, the fastball is still sort of my go-to. I have both the slider and my curve ball. The slider I kind of changed post-spring training and it gets a lot more horizontal movement, so it's like a different look than the curve ball. And then the change up we're still working on. That's the pitch that, hopefully, I can get (in order) to become that complete package.
-What type of feedback are you hearing from Bergesen of late?
So, I guess my first, maybe, four or five starts, I kind of had some mental lapses in terms of four pitch walks or walking guys and stuff like that, so we're just kind of working on queues to keep my delivery in sync and stuff like that. That's been big. Been doing that in bullpens and it's really helped especially the command of my fastball's gotten a lot better. Both-- because outside fastballs were really what I was heavy on last year. So, mixing in inside fastballs gives a whole other look and kind of keeps people off the breaking ball, people off the change up and it's basically a whole different pitch even though it's just a fastball.
-When you start mentioning the improved command, I glanced over at your stats here and I see those first five starts' stats and you went from walking either three or four in every game to now walking just one total in your last two starts, which is proof of what you were talking about. Can you talk some more about that refinement and those great results?
Sure. We've been working on keeping my lower body and my arm in sync because it says I have a fast arm, so technically sometimes I drift forward, and then my arm's a little late. So, it's just getting my arm out on time and, I don't know, just kind of thinking, "Where do I want this pitch?" as the last thought in my head before I pick up my leg and go. So it's kind of like-- "laser focus" is kind of a way to put it, I guess. Just being super intense on trying to pitch to that certain location instead of getting up there and just throwing it.
-Is there any variance to the velocity from last year to this year?
I'm sitting a little bit higher, I'd say. Mostly 92 to 95 up to 96. I hit a 97 in Ft. Myers, but it's staying a little longer into starts than it was in Lakewood. But I also came back 20 pounds lighter and in a little bit better shape than I was at the start of last spring training, so...
-So, that was gonna be one of my questions for you...about your off-season routine. So, let's talk about that. What did you do to drop pounds and was that the focus?
Well, yeah, when I talked with my strength coach last year, I was around 250, 245, and I kind of felt out of condition and stuff like that, so the goal was to get to 235, coming into spring training and I was actually down to 232. A lot of running and stuff like that. But I'm up to 238 again. I've been eating a little more, I guess. I ate really-- I wouldn't say really healthy, but I really watched what I ate and I didn't overeat and that really helps too. And I was just up in Washington with my fiancee for most of the off-season working and doing some pitching lessons up there.
-What was work for you? Was it just pitching lessons or something else also?
Well, I actually worked at a place that kind of gets shipping crates from Japan, China, over in Asian countries and they would get shipped over to the port near Seattle and we would unload the cardboard boxes and they would go to different distributors I guess, like Target stores. So, for 10 hours a day I was picking up boxes and loading them onto a truck and moving them side to side and it was all an assortment. There was vacuums and microwaves and TV's and even like bikes and stuff, so I got a good workout doing that. On top of that I was doing lifts at night because I started work at five in the morning.
-Wow. You started talking about it and I presumed you had some sort of business gig, in an office, and then you elaborate and it's manual labor!
Yeah, my fiancee's brother actually works there and he drives a forklift there and I was one of the guys, they call them "swampers". You move boxes to certain sides, so the forklifts can pull them out and stuff like that. Yeah, I just did that for a couple months and then I went home and then I had strength camp here, in Clearwater, in December. And then when I went back, I just wanted to focus strictly on baseball. So, at the gym, they have a youth baseball program, so I got hired there doing pitching lessons three or four times a week.
-Excellent. I wanted to ask you about the backstops there. I know you have a couple guys there that you've worked with before. Does that help, having a bond and solid rapport with your catcher to help you enjoy so much success on the mound?
My last two starts have been with Edgar Cabral. I might have thrown to him once in my first spring training and once this spring training and then when he stayed with us in Clearwater he seems to call a really good game. No offense to the other catchers, 'cause I've thrown well with them too, but I don't know, recently it seems like I don't even have to shake him off. He just seems to know exactly what pitch I have in mind and I hardly ever have to shake him off.
To check out the rest of my chat with Damon Jones, support this content on Patreon!