Rays' Jones comes through in clutch

No. 22 overall pick blasts go-ahead, three-run shot in the ninth

Greg Jones' .856 OPS ranks eighth in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League. (Sandy Tambone/MiLB.com)

By Joe Bloss / MiLB.com | July 21, 2019 11:22 PM

When Greg Jones batted with two on and first base open in the ninth inning Sunday, Renegades manager Blake Butera didn't expect him to get a pitch to hit. The 22nd overall pick in the June Draft was going to receive a free pass or chase pitches out of the zone.

But Butera was wrong and Jones battled through an eight-pitch at-bat to blast a go-ahead, three-run dinger that propelled Class A Short Season Hudson Valley to a 4-2 win over Lowell at Edward A. LeLacheur Park.

"I'm not a big-time home run hitter," Jones said, "but they're good to come around every once and awhile."

Gameday box score

The Spinners struck first with sixth-inning RBIs from two of Boston's 2019 Draft picks. Jaxx Groshans, a fifth-rounder out of Kansas, singled home a run to open the scoring and Wil Dalton, an eighth-rounder from Florida, was plunked by Andrew Gross with the bases loaded.

Jones' clutch shot capped the Renegades' four-run rally against Kris Jackson. K.V. Edwards got it started with a one-out single, Garrett Hiott followed with a seven-pitch walk and Nick Sogard doubled to score Hudson Valley's first run.

As Butera expected, Jackson's first offering missed outside and Jones let the ball sail by. Then the right-hander fired two changeups in the zone and Jones whiffed at both. The 21-year-old stepped out of the box. He told himself to settle down and wait for his pitch. There was no harm in spoiling anything he couldn't drive into the gap.

The fourth pitch missed low and after fouling off three straight pitches in a 2-2 count, Jones changed the game with his sixth swing of the at-bat, ripping his first professional long ball to right-center field.

"A home run in the ninth right there to take the lead is huge in itself, but credit to him," Butera said, "He fought off some really, really tough pitches and was able to finally get a mistake and he took advantage of it, which was pretty special to see."

The big fly was the latest highlight in a productive first pro month for the UNC Wilmington product. Jones made his debut with the Renegades on June 18. In 24 games since, he's hit .323/.398/.458. His batting average ranks sixth in the New York-Penn League and his on-base percentage -- boosted by 11 walks -- slots fourth.

After four hits in his first two games, Jones went hitless over his next four. Maybe, Butera figured, Jones was trying too hard to prove he was worth such a high selection. Maybe he was a little anxious and needed time to settle in. The manager, this time, wasn't wrong.

2019 MiLB include

"It was a new situation for me," Jones said. "I really didn't know what to expect when I got here. I was letting everything speed up on me a little bit. Just trying to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch, it started to come to me."

The results, especially of late, have illustrated that relaxed approach. Jones exited the weekend with a nine-game hitting streak and multiple knocks in seven of those contests. His average jumped from .226 to .323 during that span.

The quick adjustment, Butera said, was the product of the North Carolina native's talent.

"His hands are so quick that he has the ability to let the ball travel a lot deeper than a lot of hitters will be able to," the skipper said. "For him, it's just kind of staying within himself, letting the ball travel and using those good hands instead of trying to get overanxious and getting out front a bit."

A shoulder impingement that has lingered since the collegiate season has limited Jones to offensive contributions thus far, but that should soon change. Jones feels "really good." Within the next few days, he will have shortstop responsibilities added to his plate.

"My first start is coming up soon," he said. "So as long as I can stay solid on the defensive side and keep the offense rolling, I think I'll be pretty good."

Joe Bloss is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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