Day 1: Rondon starts off camp firing
It took one day of spring training for Jim Leyland to put a cutoff on Bruce Rondon evaluations. As he put it, he’s not going to give daily updates on where Rondon stands.
For that matter, he isn’t planning on maintaining a scoreboard for the Rick Porcello/Drew Smyly competition for the fifth starter job, either.
“We know we have two guys capable of starting in the big leagues, and one of them is going to start for sure,” Leyland said Tuesday morning.
Leyland usually warns at some point early in every camp that he’s not going to do evaluations on guys fighting for jobs, trying to avoid having players read everything he says to try to gauge where they stand. Leyland just usually doesn’t put a halt on that this early. The flock of national writers already this week — four in the last two days, by my count — and the repeated questions about Rondon brought it on.
Now that formal workouts have started, reporters can get a look at Rondon for themselves. His first bullpen session Tuesday morning was impressive.
Rondon is big and imposing, but he doesn’t look as big as he’s listed. In fact, as I wrote in the notes on the site today, fellow relief prospect Melvin Mercedes looks bigger.
His fastball is imposing enough. Even this early in camp, he came out throwing fastballs — not necessarily game-speed fastballs like Joel Zumaya used to throw early in camp, but still pretty good. He had a smooth delivery that seemingly belied how hard he can throw. But then, you wouldn’t expect a violent delivery to show up in an early camp session.
It was enough to pique the curiosity for his later sessions, and especially his game appearances coming up. He certainly had the attention of Leyland, who stood a few feet away with pitching coach Jeff Jones for about half of Rondon’s session. He talked with assistant GM Al Avila about him as well, picking out stuff he noticed.
Look for a few more of these bullpen session on the back fields at Tigertown before live sessions against Tiger hitters begin. It’ll be fascinating to see who Leyland and his staff group up to face Rondon, at least the first time around. Remember, while his pitch quality isn’t in question, his command is something they’ll be watching.
A few more bullpen notes as we get underway with daily updates from Lakeland:
- Though Leyland doesn’t guarantee they’ll break camp with two lefty relievers, he expects that theywill. That was in question this offseason with some of the moves they made (Daniel Schlereth nontendered, Matt Hoffman outrighted, no free agents added), as well as the willingness Leyland has to use Al Alburquerque and Brayan Vilarreal against left-handed hitters because of their swing-and-miss potential. “I think that we’ll have two left-handers in the bullpen,” Leyland said, “and Phil Coke will be one of them.”
- Leyland said he felt like Luke Putkonen made “a lot of progress last year.” Whether he progresses into the conversation for a long relief spot remains to be seen.