CHICAGO -- JaCoby Jones was supposed to be in Toledo on Tuesday, getting more seasoning at Triple-A, seeing more pitches, refining his strike zone. That was the expectation in Spring Training. He didn't so much slug his way into the Tigers' starting center-field job as he hit selectively.
And as he celebrated Opening Day by becoming the first Tigers player in 52 years to hit his first Major League home run in a season opener, Jones showed the plate discipline and tenacious at-bats that not only got him here, but could make him an impact player in the Tigers lineup.
"That was a very good at-bat," manager Brad Ausmus said after Tuesday's 6-3 win over the White Sox. "Probably the best we've seen from him all year, including Spring Training."
Jones already has a history against the White Sox. The No. 9 prospect in Detroit's farm system, according to MLBPipeline.com, Jones made his Major League debut against them last August and drove in two runs as his mom was crying tears of joy in the stands, then he scored the game-winning run the next day in a walk-off victory.
Jones briefly provided a spark last year when the Tigers needed it. To win a starting job out of Spring Training, however, he needed to show more. Tigers officials believed he didn't yet have the discipline at the plate to survive in the Majors, evidenced by a 120-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio at three levels. Jones made a point in Grapefruit League play to show a two-strike approach and not chase pitches.
It fit in with the two-strike approach Ausmus emphasized with the whole team. But it was crucial for Jones and the Tigers when he stepped to the plate against Jose Quintana with two runners on and one out in the second inning, his nerves picking up.
"As I was walking up there, it was pretty high," Jones said. "[First-base coach] Omar [Vizquel] told me yesterday, 'You're probably going to be nervous your first at-bat. Go up there, look around the stands, take a deep breath and then focus in.'"
The Statcast™ pitch-by-pitch map of the at-bat shows the difficulty. Jones took a first-pitch breaking ball for strike one, then fouled off an inside fastball that put him in an 0-2 hole. From there, he shortened his approach.
"I was just thinking see ball, hit ball," Jones said, "trying to make contact and see what happens."
Jones didn't chase, not the 0-2 fastball up and out of the zone, nor the 1-2 curveball that Quintana dropped off the plate inside. When Quintana tried to jam him inside on back-to-back fastballs, Jones fouled both of them off to stay alive.
"He's just battling," Ausmus said. "When you get to two strikes, you can't keep swinging for the fences. Even though he got a homer, you have to shorten your swing and you have to put the ball in play, put a little pressure on the defense.
Quintana gave up seven home runs after reaching an 0-2 count last year, but few on pitches like the 2-2 curveball he thought he could use to finish off Jones on Tuesday. It ended up inside and at the knees, maybe lower, but Jones golfed it, short approach and all.
"He was hitting his spots," White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier said of Quintana. "What are you going to do?"
Said Ausmus : "He was a little out in front, but just enough out in front to get it over the wall. He got extended on it. It was a very good at-bat."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.