Former NKU pitcher eyes comeback

Former NKU and current Chicago White Sox pitcher Nate Jones was recently cleared to throw a baseball for the first time since July of 2014.

“It’s been such a relief being able to throw again,” Jones said. “Even though I’m still a long way off from pitching in an actual game, I’m pleased with the progress that I’ve made so far.”

Jones, 29, made his major league debut in 2012 and finished with an 8-0 record and 2.39 ERA out of the bullpen. He struggled early on in 2013, but posted a 3.64 ERA in the second half of the season. Going into spring training last year, Jones was considered as the front-runner to fill the vacant closer role because of his ability to blow it by hitters with his high-90s fastball, averaging a strikeout per inning.

Everything was trending in the right direction for the talented flamethrower until he began to feel some discomfort in his right elbow during a bullpen session.

“It started out as this soreness or whatever, and then we started increasing the workload and it turned into a burning sensation in my arm,” Jones said. “We shut it down and went to get it checked out to see what the problem was. I tried to keep a positive mindset.”

Unfortunately, it turned out to be the worst-case scenario for Jones. A tear in his ulnar collateral ligament forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery, and the hopes of a promising 2014 season had vanished.

“I don’t wonder ‘Why me?’ or anything like that. I roll with the punches,” Jones said. “It happens to everybody at some point or another. I’ve just had to deal with it, put it behind me and focus on rehab.”

Jones’ rehabilitation program entails 90-minute workouts three days a week. He drives to a facility north of Cincinnati for weights and follows the team’s program, which includes a weighted ball routine and resistance training.

The overwhelming support that Jones has received from friends and family throughout this process has kept him motivated. He has spoken with a half-dozen pitchers who have experienced the surgery before and knows his effort in rehab can make all the difference.

“There’s an 85 percent chance of me coming back just as strong, if not stronger,” Jones said. “From what I get from these guys, you kind of get out of it what you put into it. So I’ve been busting my butt, making sure I’m doing everything right, doing extra stuff when it’s the smart and right idea to.”

As of now, Jones is tossing from 100 feet without any pain. The next steps will include throwing off a mound at 50 percent velocity, gradually increasing the intensity and number of pitches day by day to improve his arm strength.  He will then pitch in a number of simulated games. Barring any setbacks, Jones plans to toe the rubber for the White Sox at some point in July, which is right around the one-year mark from when he had his surgery.

“I hope to come back better than ever and help my team win as many games as possible,” Jones said.