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Jones as good as advertised for UVa baseball team

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Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014 12:15 am

Last seen by media members at Davenport Field, Connor Jones was exiting the downstairs Hall of Fame room and entering the clubhouse.

This was in the seven o’clock hour Tuesday evening, not long after Jones, making the first start of his college career, threw four impressive innings as No. 3 Virginia rolled to a 13-2 win over James Madison.

At that time, the freshman had no specific plans for the next few days.

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “I’ll get some lifts in. I’m not sure, as far as throwing, what I’ll do. With relieving, you never know what’s going on.”

The most hyped incomer to UVa’s program in 2014 has lived up to his billing through 15 games.

Jones has dazzled mostly in middle relief. Once in closer form. And, most recently, as a starter.

The reigning high school All-American has appeared in seven games, which is tied for the most outings on the team. He’s 1-0 with a minuscule 1.56 ERA. He’s allowed all of 13 hits in 17 1/3 innings.

Two weeks ago, Jones earned a save when he induced a game-ending double play against Monmouth.

Tuesday, he earned a win when he allowed one run on three hits against the Dukes. On a strict pitch count, he found the strike zone 32 times on 46 deliveries.

“He did really well,” said junior second baseman Branden Cogswell. “I know the first few innings, he really had command of the strike zone, had command on most of his pitches. It’s easy to play behind a pitcher who is pitching to contact and filling up the zone.”

As the ace for Great Bride High School in Chesapeake, Jones went 22-3 with a 1.68 ERA in four seasons.

Last May, he made the decision to commit to Virginia rather than opt for the Major League Baseball Draft, where he was considered to have first round pick potential.

The San Diego Padres took Jones anyway with a 21st round selection, but the powerful right-hander arrived in Charlottesville in the summer with the goal of simply contributing to the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.

“It’s definitely a lot of learning and adjusting,” Jones said in the fall. “But I love it. It’s all part of the process.”

Jones made his debut in UVa’s first game, coming out of the bullpen to relieve starter Brandon Waddell for 2 2/3 innings during the Wahoos’ 8-3 loss to Kentucky.

His role hasn’t changed much since, but his progress suggests it could.

Jones got the nod against JMU because normal midweek starter Artie Lewicki is still sidelined by an oblique injury and freshman Jack Roberts, a starting candidate in the preseason, has been out with a strained lat muscle.

The game was chopped up in order to save Jones for this weekend when Virginia (12-3, 2-1 ACC) hosts Boston College (6-9, 0-3). First pitch is scheduled for 5, tonight.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder will again be a reliever, but in the near future?

“Connor has some really good experience out of the bullpen in some difficult situations and now has a start under his belt,” said UVa coach Brian O’Connor. “Certainly, we have the option moving forward if we’d like to start him, and potentially even on the weekend and shuffle some things around.”

Against the Eagles, O’Connor will stick with the rotation of Nathan Kirby (4-0, 0.74 ERA) tonight, Josh Sborz (3-1, 2.29) on Saturday and Waddell (3-1, 4.09) on Sunday.

The sophomore trio makes up the youngest weekend rotation in the ACC.

Jones could easily make it younger.

“The more versatile you are, the better,” said junior first baseman Mike Papi. “If he can come out of the pen for us and throw strikes and get hitters out, then we’ll take it. And if he can start a weekday game or even a weekend game, I mean it’s a positive all around.”

In the meantime, don’t expect Jones to be knocking down O’Connor’s office door for answers.

“You just kind of go with the flow,” Jones said. “There’s no predetermined work in your head, like, ‘All right, I’m going to do this today.’ You just show up and do whatever’s asked of you.’”

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