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Padre Notebook : The Pressure Gets to Jimmy Jones

March 26, 1987|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

YUMA, Ariz. — Jimmy Jones figured Wednesday was an important day, but then he heard on the radio that Wednesday could be Make-or-Break Day.

He panicked.

He said that by the time he got to the pitcher's mound to face the Chicago Cubs, his arms, hands and knees were shaking. And soon Padre Manager Larry Bowa was shaking his head, because Jones opened the game with six straight balls, walked the first two batters he faced and gave up three runs and four walks in four innings. The Padres lost, 3-2.

Afterward, Jones said: "I was more nervous in the first inning today than in my whole life."

Bowa said Jones might have blown his chance to be the Padres' fifth and final starting pitcher.

"If he's nervous with 4,000 people in the stands (in Yuma), we better put him in a cage when 50,000 people show up!" Bowa said. "If you can't pitch in a spring game . . . I guess you're not mature enough to pitch in the big leagues."

This is the ultimate story of self-inflicted pressure. In 1982, Jones was drafted ahead of the Mets' Dwight Gooden. Jones knows that Gooden already has won a Cy Young Award, and he figures he should be in the big leagues by now, too.

Bowa has already said that Jones or Ed Wojna will be the fifth starter, so every appearance on the mound is crucial for Jones. On Wednesday, a friend told him what a radio announcer had said: "Today's game versus the Cubs will probably decide if Jones makes the team."

Jones' reaction: "Oh, no. Here it is."

Magnifying Jones' problem is that Bowa has no sympathy for him. Bowa managed Jones last season in Las Vegas, and he says he told Jones a million times: "I don't care if you give up 50 runs. Just don't walk anybody."

Why would Bowa say this? Because he says Jones has a tremendous right arm.

"He probably has the best arm in camp," Bowa said. ". . . You could probably throw Jimmy Jones' name to every team in baseball and every team would probably take him. He's got a great arm."

So when Bowa hears that Jones says he is nervous about making the team, Bowa gets angry.

"That is a cop-out," Bowa said. ". . . You keep making excuses--the pressure, the wind, the mound--you can do it the next 10 years, and you'll be 34 or 35 and you'll wonder, 'Why didn't I pitch in the big leagues?' I'd think with an arm like that, with velocity like that, I'd throw it over the plate and take my chances."

The moral of Wednesday's story is that Wojna is now the front-runner to be the No. 5 starter. Bowa said Wojna instead of Jones will start Sunday in Palm Springs against the Angels.

"I told everybody that the fifth spot was up for grabs between Jimmy Jones and Ed Wojna," Bowa said. "Who's pitched better? Wojna. He (Jones) knew the situation from Day 1. No one has thrown extra pressure on the man. He's putting pressure on himself.

"There's pressure in these games? Pressure's when you have a family and can't provide them food. This isn't pressure. Maybe we'll ease the pressure and send him to Vegas. There's no pressure there. There's slot machines, I guess. He'll have fun there."

Jones, sitting alone in the Padre clubhouse, said he must overcome the pressures if he ever wants to overcome Gooden.

"I've done this to myself," he said. "I've been thinking about it (making the team) since my last game, but now I probably won't think about it again. That won't win me a job."

Somebody else might have won a job Wednesday.

He's Tom Gorman.

He's a left-handed reliever, and Bowa said it's likely that Gorman will be the 10th and last man on the pitching staff--beating out Greg Booker, who still has a sore arm.

Gorman, relieving Jones, pitched two scoreless innings Wednesday and struck out three.

He's no rookie, though. Gorman is 29 and since 1981 has played with the Montreal Expos, the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. He says he's famous for two things: One, being the winning pitcher when the Mets beat the Braves in a rain-delayed Fourth of July game in 1985 that ended at 4:05 the next morning; and, two, being the losing pitcher the night Houston's Nolan Ryan struck out his 4,000th batter.

Gorman says he has been in seven big league camps, and five times he has been released on the final cut.

"It's always me," he said. "The manager always calls me in and I keep hoping he wants to know if I can play golf. . . . I'd like to be a 20-game winner once and be able to work on my screwball or something else and be relaxed all spring. But, basically, it's blood every time out."

Last spring, he was the final Met to be cut.

"Seeing them go to the Series . . . it was a real blow," he said.

Gorman eventually went home to Portland, Ore., where he signed with the Phillies' Triple-A team. He was called up by the Phillies later in the year but had a 7.71 earned-run average in 12 innings.

"If I'd had a second baseman between the shortstop and the third baseman, my ERA would have been zero," he said.

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