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Todd Jones Gets Chance With Reds

March 25, 2004

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ Todd Jones walked through the glass doors lugging an overstuffed Tampa Bay equipment bag, spotted the receptionist and glanced at her nameplate.

``Hi Barbara,″ he said. ``I’m the new guy.″

One day after he was released by the Devil Rays, the right-handed reliever had a new team and another chance.

The Cincinnati Reds signed Jones to a minor league contract Thursday, offering the opportunity to win a setup job in their bullpen. Instead of packing for a trip to Japan to open the season, he was unpacking in an unfamiliar clubhouse, hoping to make the flight to Cincinnati.

``I’m just glad to have a uniform,″ he said, settling into a bare locker in a corner of the clubhouse.

Jones, 35, developed into one of the majors’ top closers in the late 1990s, earning 144 saves from 1997-01. He made the All-Star team with Detroit in 2000 and tied Derek Lowe for the AL saves lead with 42, a career high.

Jones has slipped in recent years. Colorado designated him for assignment last June after he went 1-4 with an 8.24 ERA in 33 games. He signed with Boston and went 2-1 with a 5.52 ERA in 26 games.

Overall, he is 39-42 with 184 saves and a 4.06 ERA in 15 seasons with Houston, Detroit, Minnesota, Colorado and Boston. He got to know current Reds general manager Dan O’Brien when he was an assistant GM in Houston.

``Of course, that was 6 miles per hour ago,″ Jones said, joking about his fastball.

The Reds aren’t concerned with how hard Jones throws. They’re looking for a reliever who will throw strikes and let hitters put the ball in play, a point of emphasis this spring.

By bringing in Jones, the Reds sent the message that they’re not satisfied with their relievers’ control.

``Obviously, one of our strengths in terms of our depth is our bullpen,″ O’Brien said. ``But observing over the course of this spring, let’s just say there’s been a few members of our bullpen that may not be quite grasping the approach we want to employ.″

The Devil Rays released Jones on Wednesday morning, setting their roster for their trip to Japan to open the season against the New York Yankees.

``I had a good spring _ gave up two runs all spring _ but was just one of the old guys that didn’t fit there,″ Jones said. ``They gave me the opportunity to pitch, and I impressed some people. I got released at 9 o’clock in the morning and had three offers by noon.″

He was fishing when the calls came in. He chose Cincinnati because he liked the opportunity to set up for closer Danny Graves.

The Reds started sizing him up right away Thursday. A few hours after he lugged his belongings into the clubhouse, he pitched one inning in a 5-3 win over Pittsburgh.

Jones gave up a single and struck out the next three batters in a brief downpour that delayed the game for two minutes.

``I told the manager, ’This shows I’m durable. I can pitch through rain delays,‴ he said. ``It’s been a weird 24 hours.″

Jones writes a weekly column for a sports magazine and was preparing a piece about the Devil Rays’ upcoming trip to Japan. The sudden career change scuttled his writing plans.

``My deadline was today,″ Jones said. ``They’re going to have to cover for me this week.″

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