Jones returning as Tigers' 'pen coach
Detroit brings back aide after intially releasing him at season's end
DETROIT -- Jeff Jones was dismissed as Tigers bullpen coach at season's end in large part to allow a new pitching coach to make his own choice for the role. After careful consideration, Rick Knapp and the Tigers brought Jones back.
"Jeff seemed the most logical," Knapp said of the choice, announced Thursday. "That's where we started, and there was no reason to drag it out."
Not only did Jones end up being the best choice for the job, he was the only person interviewed for the job when team officials met in Detroit this week for the second round of organizational meetings. Once it became clear that the Tigers were going to hire somebody with a pitching coach's background for the bullpen job opening, the first decision to make was whether Jones could work with Knapp.
"To me, it would've been silly to let Jeff Jones go without talking to Rick Knapp if he wants a pitcher in the bullpen," manager Jim Leyland said. "To me, I feel great about it. Jeff Jones is a loyal Tiger."
Leyland brought Jones on to the staff two years ago once Lloyd McClendon moved to hitting coach. Jones had been the longtime pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo until then, helping develop some of Detroit's young pitching while helping several veteran arms and Minor League free agents find their form.
Jones worked for the last two seasons with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. When the Tigers decided to let go of Hernandez at season's end, they found it best to do the same with Jones, who had a year left on his contract. Jones was offered an unspecified job within the organization.
As Leyland explained Thursday, he wanted the pitching coach to have a say in the bullpen coach, ensuring he had someone with whom he could work well. Leyland also had indicated initial reservations about having a pitching coach in the bullpen coach role again.
"I feel bad for Jeff Jones being a pitching coach and a bullpen coach and not wanting to step on anybody's toes," Leyland said on the next-to-last day of the season. "It's worked very well in some places, but I think it makes people uncomfortable from time to time."
As the Tigers went about interviewing potential pitching coaches earlier this month, however, all four candidates indicated that they would want someone with a background in pitching instruction to serve as their bullpen coach.
They all thought that if you had the right mix, it was definitely an advantage," Leyland said. "I want my new pitching coach to feel very comfortable."
Once Knapp and Jones met and talked this week, Knapp felt that mix was there.
Like Jones, Knapp has a deep background as a pitching instructor in the Minor Leagues, molding young pitchers and helping older ones rebound. Their coaching careers both began in the 1980s, and they met a few years ago.
Just as important to Knapp, though, was Jones' experience over the last couple years in the big leagues. Jones has been on the Tigers' coaching staff in five separate stints, while this will be Knapp's first full-time Major League post.
"Jeff fit the bill for everything I looked for," Knapp said. "I think we kind of complement each other. Jeff gives me a whole lot of insight to not only the pitchers, but the league. By all accounts, it seems like the most sensible [thing to do]."
The Tigers had other internal candidates under consideration for the job, but without a pitching coach's background.
"I've been part of the Tigers organization for a long time and I'm happy to be returning to the staff as the bullpen coach," Jones said in a statement. "I look forward to working with Jim, Rick and the rest of the staff to get the Tigers back on top of the baseball world again."
Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson, who was a pitcher at Toledo in 2003 when he first met Jones, called it "great news" to have Jones back.
"I've always enjoyed having him around," Robertson said. "I've always been a big advocate of Jeff Jones from day one. I think that he possesses a knowledge about pitching that's very beneficial to anybody."
The hiring -- or re-hiring -- fills out the Tigers coaching staff for next year. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, first base coach Andy Van Slyke, third base coach Gene Lamont, infield coach Rafael Belliard and strength/conditioning coach Javair Gillett are all slated to return.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.