Jess settles in as a reliever for Gophers

Ben Gotz

Needing to get out of a bases-loaded jam Sunday, interim pitching coach Scott Matyas strolled to the mound and waved a few fingers toward the bullpen.
 
It was Jordan Jess’ signal, and out he jogged to limit the damage.
 
Just a year ago, Jess gave up the ball more than he took it from his coach. He made nine starts for the Gophers, struggling with command and failing to earn a victory on the mound.
 
But out of the bullpen this season, Jess has reinvented himself as the team’s most reliable reliever. And he’s embracing his new role with big moments, like the one on Sunday.
 
“I like those situations,” Jess said. “I’ve been put in a couple of them in a row now, and it’s fun for me. You just have to have the mentality that you’re out there pitching, having fun and let the rest take care of itself.”
 
Last year, Jess struggled through conference play as a starter, allowing 15 earned runs in as many innings and walking 19 batters.
 
But now, after being shifted to the bullpen, the southpaw is tied for the most Big Ten appearances, eight, in conference play with Rutgers’ Jon Young.
 
This season, Jess has allowed just two earned runs in 10 and 2/3 innings in Big Ten play. He’s allowed six hits, walked only three and struck out 10.
 
Outside of one poor outing against Northwestern, Jess has allowed no earned runs and two hits in the remaining Big Ten innings this year.
 
“I think he’s really worked hard at trying to find answers to pitch the ball better. He’s worked really, really hard at it,” head coach John Anderson said. “Not just physically but mentally, emotionally [to] find a good place out there and be able to focus pitch-to-pitch.”
 
Jess has brought down his ERA to second on the team at 3.54, much lower than the 5.90 he finished with last season.
 
His command is sharper, and he’s added a slider to his arsenal that he uses as his out pitch.
 
“He’s been incredible,” redshirt senior catcher Matt Halloran said. “He’s not going to blow it by anyone … so that slider’s been huge. It’s been keeping hitters off
balance all year.”
 
Armed with a new go-to pitch, Jess has been able to get the Gophers out of several sticky situations recently.
 
He entered with the bases loaded Sunday and got two consecutive outs, though one run charged to pitcher Matt Fiedler did score on a sacrifice fly.
 
The previous weekend against ranked Nebraska, Jess entered the game with two outs and two on. It took him only three pitches to end the inning with a strikeout.
 
He completed the game for the first save of his career, when a year earlier, the Huskers gave Jess his sixth loss of the season. 
 
“Seventy-five percent of Division I programs in America would have let that kid go two years ago based on how he was pitching, [but] we don’t give up on kids,” Anderson said. “[I] couldn’t be happier for Jordan and the way he’s pitching right now.”