Rondon decision coming after rough Wednesday
The spotlight that has been shining on Bruce Rondon every outing for the last five weeks finally can come down. Now comes the judgment whether he’s ready to pitch, or close, in the big leagues.
Wednesday’s outing against the Phillies didn’t make the decision process any simpler.
“From an organizational standpoint, we’re evaluating a couple of these last decisions we have to make,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We evaluated yesterday and we evaluated today, and we will discuss those evaluations in both instances.”
Without saying as much, Leyland was acknowledging the difference in the two days, and the complication in putting together a judgment as a whole. A day after Rondon put together what Leyland calls his best pitching of the spring, he struggled to try to get through his inning of work Wednesday.
Neither of the back-to-back singles Rondon allowed leading off Wednesday’s seventh inning was hit particularly hard, though Ben Revere’s ground ball single was hit hard enough to elude Danny Worth’s diving attempt at third base. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Rondon rebounded to fire fastballs past Troy Hanzawa for the first out, but Michael Young’s grounder to short sent Jhonny Peralta just far enough to his left to leave him without a play at the plate.
It also moved the speedy Revere to third, and that’s where Rondon’s outing seemed to come apart. A walk to Laynce Nix put runners at the corners for Carlos Ruiz when a balk cost him another run.
Catcher Alex Avila took the blame for the balk, saying they had a mix-up on signs. When Avila threw down another sign, Rondon stopped in his delivery, drawing the call and sending Revere home with another run.
“Alex said he messed it up. I don’t worry about that,” Leyland said.
Ruiz’s ensuing walk drew Leyland out of the dugout as soon as Rondon snatched the toss from Avila. Rondon had hit his pitch count, and Leyland did not want to go much past that on Rondon’s second straight day of pitching.
“He wasn’t as sharp, obviously,” Leyland acknowledged, “but he wasn’t <i>bad</i> bad.”
That said, Leyland acknowledged it’ll be part of the evaluation.
Publicly, Leyland and Avila said, Rondon has been evaluated on a game-by-game basis. It’s part of the spotlight a closer goes through, but it’s something the 22-year-old Rondon hadn’t experienced before.
“Obviously [Tuesday] he was lights-out, but I think everybody has unrealistic expectations,” Avila said. “I mean, every time he pitches, you guys ask how he did. It seems like everybody expects him to have a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts every inning. That’s never going to be the case.
“But I thought he threw all right [Wednesday]. He was a little bit more wild than he was yesterday. He still made some real good pitches. … Overall, I thought he pitched OK. Obviously there’s room for improvement.”
Leyland and the Tigers front office have three options for their fireballing reliever. They can name him the primary closer, they can start him out in the bullpen as part of a closer by committee, or they can option him to the minors for more seasoning. Leyland was giving no hints on what he might do Wednesday.
Coming into the day, the second option appears like the strongest option. As guarded as Leyland was in his praise the last couple weeks, he has been measured in his critiques during his two rough outings over the past five days.
“He wants to make the team and he’s trying his fanny off to make the team,” Leyland said, “and everything’s been written so much about it. It’s got to affect him a little bit. I think he’s handled things pretty darn well.”