Solving Lefties

Marlins' Hunter Jones found his stride





FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—It became a running joke in the Red Sox organization two seasons ago. If you wanted to retire a righthanded hitter, lefthander Hunter Jones was your man.

"All of a sudden I look and lefties are hitting .400 off me," said Jones, whom the Marlins acquired from the Red Sox this offseason in the Jeremy Hermida deal. "I got it down some from there, but the point is I was so worried about it that it was almost bringing those negative thoughts to fruition. In baseball there are so many things that are mental. I feel like that was one of them."

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Jones, who this spring will vie for a spot in the Marlins bullpen, overcame that mental block last season. In 36 relief appearances (53 innings) for Triple-A Pawtucket he held lefthanded hitters to a .206 average. The flip side to his dreadful 2008 lefty-righty split (.384/.191) was how Jones neutralized righthanded hitters. Last season they batted 53 points higher off him, though that's still plenty good.

"In 2009, I said I'm going to treat every hitter the same," said Jones, 26. "I'm going to work to get them out every pitch and I'm not going to worry about whether they get a hit or not. It ended up turning around."

Part of the reason righthanded hitters don't bother Jones is a four-seam fastball that has natural cutting action. His out pitch is a sinker with good action, and Jones spent the offseason refining a circle change.

During his initial major league stint with the Red Sox last season, which spanned eight appearances from April 20-May 13, Jones realized an effective changeup was imperative to complement a slider he throws at multiple speeds.

"I feel like that's going to be a great pitch this year," Jones said of his changeup.

Signed by the Red Sox in 2005 as a nondrafted free agent out of Florida State, Jones has used command to get to the majors. In 338 minor league innings he boasted a 3.2-1 strikeout-walk ratio.

That should help Jones as he competes with incumbent lefthanded relievers Renyel Pinto and Dan Meyer and Taylor Tankersley, who will be coming back from an elbow injury that cost him all of 2009."I couldn't have been happier," Jones said of the trade. "Boston was a great organization and I feel like the Marlins are as well. Everyone I've met has treated me really well so far. I fell like there's a big opportunity here for me."

FISH BITES

• In addition to top prospects Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Matt Dominguez, the Marlins invited organizational lefthanders Daniel Jennings and Jay Voss, catchers Brad Davis and Chris Hatcher, infielder Ozzie Martinez and outfielder Bryan Petersen to big league camp.

• Catcher Kyle Skipworth, the Marlins' first-round pick in 2008, will not be in big league camp even though he took part in 2009. Skipworth struggled last season (.208/.263/.348) at low Class A Greensboro and the Marlins want him focused on the minor league season.