LAKELAND, Fla. — Todd Jones finally looked like the pitcher who has 301 major league saves.
The Tigers closer pitched a perfect inning against a major league club for the first time this spring Thursday, lowering his ERA from 24.55 to 19.29. Detroit played to a 6-6, 10-inning tie against the Atlanta Braves.
Neither Jones nor manager Jim Leyland was particularly worried.
“I wasn’t excited his first times out and I wasn’t excited this time,” Leyland said. “He threw well today and I was never worried. He’ll be just fine.”
Jones said he and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez broke down some film after his last outing and detected a few flaws. In his one inning against the Braves, he got two pop outs and a ground out.
“My arm strength is where it needs to be,” Jones said. “I am not concerned. Spring training is a whole process. When you get older, you just have to remember the basic steps.”
With many questions surrounding the Tigers bullpen, Jones is the only one who knows his role heading toward Opening Day. Zach Miner has likely wrapped up one of the middle relief spots, but Leyland said he has about five or six pitchers battling for at least two remaining spots in the bullpen.
Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman pitched four innings and allowed four runs, three of them earned. His spring ERA rose to 5.54.
“I didn’t throw the ball real well and I didn’t have the slightest idea where it was going,” Bonderman said. “I felt like I was learning how to throw all over again, but I’ll work on it and be ready in five days.”
Chuck James started for the Braves and allowed only one hit in two shutout innings in his spring debut. Manager Bobby Cox was delighted by what he saw of his projected fifth starter.
“Chuck was outstanding,” Cox said. “He was really good. For a first time start, that was excellent and the best thing was that he felt strong after the game.”
Gary Sheffield hit his first homer of the Grapefruit League season for the Tigers. That improves his spring batting average to .100. He entered the game with one hit in 18 at-bats.
Notes: Ryan Raburn, who can play infield or outfield, caught an inning for the Tigers. The Tigers need a backup to Ivan Rodriguez until Vaughn Wilson returns from the disabled list. Leyland said Raburn would not be the backup but could make the team as an emergency catcher. ... Leyland said he’s been impressed by reliever Freddy Dolsi who allowed two earned runs in two innings against the Braves. He said Dolsi was a “legitimate longshot” for one of the remaining bullpen spots .