HOUSTON – When trying to explain what makes James Jones so special as a young player, manager Lloyd McClendon had the perfect anecdote Tuesday before the game with the Astros.
Just 24 hours earlier on Monday, Jones had arrived early to the park, like always. But sometime in between film study or cage work or lifting, the young outfielder poked his head into the manager’s office in the visiting clubhouse of Minute Maid Park.
In his quiet voice and with a serious look on his face, he asked McClendon if he could talk to him for a few minutes.
“I thought something was wrong,” McClendon said. “Maybe a family problem, and then he asked, ‘What can I do to get to better?’ ”
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Of course he did.
It was met only with mild surprise from McClendon. Though it isn’t common for most players to do such a thing, it’s typical behavior for Jones.
“This kid, he’s special in that respect,” McClendon said. “He wants to be the best he can be. I don’t think he’s motivated by the dollar figure. He’s motivated to be the best player he can be and that’s special.”
Jones said he didn’t think it was anything special. It was an honest question intended to get helpful feedback.
“I always feel like I have something I can improve on,” he said. “It’s just being on the same page as the manager. I know I have some things, personally, I feel should improve. But from his perspective, he’s got a lot of experience and he’s seen everything. I just want to get his insight.”
McClendon said his advice was simple.
“I told him to keep doing what he’s doing,” he said. “Keep studying the way he’s been studying. And whatever you do, don’t let Robinson Cano out of your sights. He’s done a good job of that.”
Indeed, players and coaches have joked that Jones is like Cano’s shadow, following him everywhere.
Jones said McClendon offered more specific advice.
“He said that I’m really smart on the base paths, but I need to know when to be aggressive and when to pull back,” Jones said. “Work on my routes in the outfield. He said I’ve improved at that, but there is definitely more room for improvement in that.”
Later that night against the Astros, Jones racked up four hits and three stolen bases — something done in club history only by Ichiro Suzuki (4 for 5, four steals on July 20, 2004 vs. the Red Sox).
“I told him after the game, ‘Keep getting four hits and stealing three bases.’ He’ll be really good and I’ll be really smart,” the manager joked.
• Erasmo Ramirez was scratched from his start Monday night with Class AAA Tacoma to be present for the birth of his twin sons, according to McClendon.
• Catcher Mike Zunino (12) and shortstop Brad Miller (8) lead their positions in home runs in the American League.
• The Mariners led all of Major League Baseball with a 2.53 ERA in June, a club record for a month. The bullpen had a 1.64 ERA for June, also a club record.
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On Twitter: @RyanDivish