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Perrotto: Right or Wrong Decision, it’s Baseball in 2024

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Andy Haines, Pittsburgh Pirates, Derek Shelton

Derek Shelton has made thousands of decisions during his five seasons as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager.

Some have worked out. Others have backfired. Plenty have been second-guessed.

That’s the nature of the job.

However, Shelton has never made a more controversial move than he did with rookie right-hander Jared Jones on Tuesday night. Shelton pulled Jones after the 22-year-old pitched five scoreless innings against the Mets in New York.

Amazingly, Jones got the hook despite throwing 59 pitches. He would have had a perfect game going if left fielder Bryan Reynolds hadn’t just missed Pete Alonso’s fly ball in the second inning.

Jones being removed from the game was baffling, especially since he had been extremely efficient with his pitches in his fourth career start. He averaged just 3.7 per batter and seemed to have plenty left in the tank after throwing 89, 80 and 85 pitches in his first three outings.

Yet it ended up being a five-and-dive for Jones.

Well, it turned out it wasn’t Shelton’s decision. The Pirates had already determined that Jones would pitch no more than five innings before the game started. To use one of baseball’s favorite modern-day phrases, it was a collaborative effort between the front office and the coaching staff.

Jones was pitching on four days of rest for the first time in his four-year professional career. The Pirates decided it would be unwise to push him beyond five innings.

The decision backfired from a win-loss standpoint. The bullpen couldn’t hold a 1-0 lead bequeathed from Jones and the Pirates wound up losing 3-1.

Shelton admitted after the game that it was difficult to end Jones’ outing so early. However, he was unapologetic about it.

And, in a bit of a surprise, the ultra-competitive Jones said he was fine with the decision. Jones also said he appreciates the Pirates keeping a close watch on his workload.

Jones pitched 66 innings in his first pro season in 2021, then 122.2 innings in 2022 and 126.1 innings last year. Understandably, the Pirates won’t have him pitch 200 innings this season or even 180.

Yet, from an old-school perspective – yes, I’m old — it was difficult to see a pitcher lifted after a sensational outing in which he threw 50 of his 59 pitches for strikes. That was an amazing 84.7% strike rate.

Not only was Jones’ start sensational and amazing, but it was also historic. He became the first major-league pitcher to throw 60 or fewer pitches and 50 or more strikes in a start since detailed pitch data started being compiled in 2000.

Jones is now 1-2 with a 3.13 ERA through four starts. He has 32 strikeouts in 23 innings with just two walks.

Jones is also just the fourth MLB pitcher to have at least seven strikeouts in each of his first four career starts since 1893 when the current mound distance of 60 feet, 6 inches was established.

It might not be too early to say the Pirates have a phenom on their hands. Jones’ starts are becoming must-watch events.

It would have been nice to watch him pitch more than five innings on Tuesday night. However, whether right or wrong, that’s baseball in 2024.

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