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Need a Stopper? Look No Further Than Rookie Jared Jones

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Pittsburgh Pirates' Jared Jones pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 11, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PITTSBURGH — A struggling team will often rely on veterans to help break a losing streak.

On Monday night at PNC Park, the Pittsburgh Pirates instead turned to prized rookie Jared Jones, and the 22-year-old played the role of a stabilizing presence as good as anyone could have imagined.

The Pirates entered play against the first-place Milwaukee Brewers having lost six-consecutive games. Jones ensured the losing streak would not continue.

One outing after he was pulled after throwing five spectacular frames on 59 pitches against the Mets in New York, Jones threw a career-high 91 pitches to get through six innings en route to his second win of the season.

The right-hander held Milwaukee to one run on four hits and a pair of walks. He struck out seven more batters and tied the MLB record with seven-plus strikeouts in each of his first five starts to begin his career.

“He was good,” said manager Derek Shelton. “Through four, I think he was at 49 (pitches). Then I think this is the first time going back to the first start that we’ve seen him, I’m going to use the word ‘struggle’ very lightly. He didn’t have his sharpest command at times. Then he was able to battle through it. I think that’s a testament to the kid.”

Jones’ biggest moment came in the sixth inning. The Brewers already had runners on second and third before a Rhys Hoskins walk loaded the bases.

Instead of a premature exit, manager Derek Shelton gave Jones the go-ahead to try and work out of the massive jam himself. Without batting an eye, Jones fielded a comebacker from Blake Perkins and threw to first for the final out of the inning.

“It’s the mentality I have,” Jones said on navigating the tight spot. “We preach knowing your identity, and sticking to my identity is key for me. As soon as I get away from it, I feel like that’s when things go bad. So sticking with that identity that I do have, it’s key.”

Although it’s early in his brief career, that’s what we have grown accustom to seeing from the flamethrower. When he’s on the mound Jones oozes confidence, even when the lights are at their brightest.

His calm demeanor is certainly helpful in those types of situations. Having a 100-mph fastball and a wicked slider to rely on certainly helps too.

His final out of the night wasn’t the only notable play from Jones in his outing.

In the third inning, the Pirates’ starter struck out Brice Turang on a down-and-in slider. Turang was so fooled by the pitch that he ended up on the seat of his pants in the left-handed batter’s box and sprawled out over home plate.

“I never made someone fall but it was pretty cool to see,” Jones said with a smile. “Pretty good pitch.”

Though it’s only April, the Pirates needed that type of performance from Jones to help end their freefall.

The Pirates started the season 9-2 before going 2-9 over their last 11 games including six losses in a row, creating a sense of déjà vu from last season.

Last year, the Pirates got off to a 20-8 start before going cold as the weather started to heat up. They ultimately finished the season 76-86 and in fourth place in the division.

Though it’s one game, a win became more and more crucial with each passing day — and each piling loss. They finally got what they needed, thanks largely because of Jones’ efforts.

“We definitely needed this game,” said Andrew McCutchen, who finished the night 3 for 4 with a homer. “Team in your division, if we can win those games, it’s big for us. It’s April, right? Hot start, then it goes slow, then you have to figure out how to pick it up again. It was a good win for us.

“I feel like it was one that we really needed. Scratched, clawed, got the runs when we needed ‘em. We were able to hold the lead at the end there. It was good. Hopefully we can breathe and be ready to go tomorrow.”

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