Orioles showcase Jones in opener

Orioles showcase Jones in opener

BALTIMORE -- The improvement was evident throughout Spring Training, and it only took one regular-season game to manifest itself. Adam Jones seems more focused, more mature and more well-rounded than he did during his first season with the Orioles, and the youngster went out and proved it on Opening Day.

Jones walked twice and went 3-for-3 in a pressure-cooker environment against the Yankees, displaying all the promise that the Orioles have seen since making him the centerpiece of last winter's Erik Bedard trade. Jones is finally past trying to prove himself, and now he's able to let his natural gifts stand out on their own.

"People who have been in this game far longer than I have said that from one Spring Training to the next, Jones looks like he's the most improved guy people have seen in a long, long time," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "People have asked me, 'What do you think is it with Jones?' Well, it's two things. One, he's no longer a guy that got traded for somebody. Two, he's the center fielder for the Orioles.

"And three, it's the ability to recognize pitches and not chase pitches out of the strike zone. That's what he showed today. He didn't chase pitches out of the strike zone, and he's not reluctant to go deep in the count."

It was a perfect game of sorts for Jones, who has a new role as a table-setter at the top of the lineup. The fleet-footed outfielder walked in the first inning against CC Sabathia, and he came back in the third to drill a two-run triple to deep right-center field. Jones came up with an infield single in the fifth, letting his speed work for him.

That was it against Sabathia, but he wasn't done for the rest of the day. Jones singled in the sixth to keep the pressure on New York's bullpen, and he walked and scored in the game-breaking eighth inning. It was a revelation of a game for Jones, who had just 10 three-hit games and only two two-walk games last season.

"Adam has worked real hard and has maintained the improvement," said hitting coach Terry Crowley, whom Jones credits for his improvement. "A lot of times, a young player will get it for a day or two and then slide back to some habits that they had in the past. He's a really smart kid, and he sucked me dry last year for learning. ... Everything that we talked about in the tunnel, every little thing we try to do, he picks up on it right away."

Crowley went on to say that Jones has realized the importance of waiting for a pitch he can drive and that he's firmly grasped the intricacies of shortening his swing. With Jones firmly ensconced at the top of the order -- following Brian Roberts and hitting in front of Nick Markakis -- the Orioles are certain he'll get pitches to hit.

"The guy is a tremendous talent," said Crowley. "He plays hard all the time, he competes and he's everything you want in a ballplayer. He excites his teammates when he hits, and that's something, because we watch it all day long, all spring long and all year long. When he hits, guys are really locked in and watching him."

Jones, who boasts speed and power in equal measures, showed off both assets in the third inning, when he drilled a shot to the right-center gap and legged it out for a triple. Jones said that he feels most comfortable hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, and he said he's at his best when he doesn't try to do too much.

"I think it's just basically calming me down, not trying to do too much and just doing what I know I can do, not trying to exceed that," he said, crediting Crowley and first-base coach John Shelby for his transformation. "When it comes to hitting, that's my strength -- to go to right-center and not try to pull the ball or hook the ball."

And in the end, it all comes down to approach. Seeing a lot of pitches may or may not help you in any given at-bat, but it can help set a trend for the rest of the lineup and the rest of the game. Jones and Trembley both said that the Orioles consciously tried to wait Sabathia out and got exactly what they wanted out of it.

"We know he's one of the guys that's a workhorse," said Jones of Sabathia. "He throws strikes, but if you take him too deep into the count, you get him out of the game early. We know, on Opening Day, he's not going to go out and throw 120 pitches. If you get that pitch count up to 80 or 90 early, they'll take him out."

Trembley added: "Well, what we did to Sabathia is what the Yankees and Boston have done. You've got to get deep in pitches, and when you get the one good one, you can't miss it. You've got to hit it. We got his pitch count up. We didn't chase bad pitches. When he put it in there, we hit it. The guys showed confidence."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.