Former pitcher leads bullpen

The pitching coach used to be the Mavericks’ teammate.
Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quentin Jones used to dream. Then a shaky outing woke him up.

“I always wanted to make it to the big leagues,” bullpen coach Jones said before the Mavericks’ 13-3 loss to Kalamazoo Wednesday night. “But when you get to a certain age — and I’m 26 now going on 27 — then I have to realize if I can pitch and be effective, or could I teach and actually help guys get better.”

The Mavericks’ former closer decided to try coaching.

His lone appearance this season came on May 28. Jones entered the game in the ninth inning with a two-run lead. He left it with a blown save, a loss, and shaken confidence.

He wondered then if he really wanted to continue pitching.

“Physically, I knew I could do it, I knew I could dominate,” Jones said. “But mentally, my focus wasn’t there.”

To be sure, he can still throw 92 mph. But a pitcher who is out of synch psychologically, Jones said, would be better served to end his playing career.

He had initially considered retirement after pitching with San Angelo of the Central League last season. His numbers, a 5.40 ERA in 13 games, were far from sterling and weren’t going to get him into affiliated baseball.

But, then again…

“There was still that itch there to pitch,” he said. “And I figured, ‘Hey, I might as well come back and try another year, come into a different league.’”

When that didn’t work, Jones knew he didn’t want to leave the game. He asked Mavericks’ manager Jim Gentile if he could stay on as a coach. Gentile said yes.

The other coaches, Tom Waelchli and Pedro Baez, were happy to continue working with him as well.

“I learn a lot of things under Jim and Tom and Pedro,” Jones said.

The job has been difficult because of the sudden change in Jones’ relationship with the Mid-Missouri (11-21) pitching staff.

He went from joking and having fun with them as teammates to keeping the group on task.

“Now I have to tell you to get your running done and get your

bullpens in,” Jones said.

Still, he said, players heed his input. He’s had plenty of chances to offer it lately.

The Mavericks’ bullpen was in extended action for the third consecutive game, all losses to the Kings (21-13).

Right-hander Steve Soja (3-4), who entered his start with a 1.91 ERA and two complete games, pitched four-plus innings, allowing nine runs and 10 hits.

Soja gave way to Josh Kerschen, Rick McKernan, and catcher Matt Oakes. The trio allowed four runs and eight hits.

It was the second-straight game that Oakes was summoned to pitch.

“I’ve been catching people for a long time,” he said. “I always ask them how do you throw this and how do you throw that.”

Jones, meanwhile, said he was baffled by the bullpen’s recent struggles that have coincided with the Mavericks’ return to Taylor Stadium.

“We get home and I don’t know what happens,” he said. “It’s like a deflated balloon.”

Jones hopes that he can eventually become a coach with a major league affiliate, but he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He has ties to the Atlanta Braves, having pitched in their system for two years. That included the 2000 season when he was with their rookie league team in his hometown of Danville, Va.

He’ll always cherish his days as a player.

“Sometimes things don’t happen,” he said. “But it doesn’t make you a failure. It’s just that life has something else for you to do.”

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