Tigers option Rondon, go with closer by committee
The Tigers will open the season with a closer by committee. It just won’t include their closer of the future.
Detroit set its pitching staff Thursday morning by optioning hard-throwing closer prospect Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo along with long reliever Luis Marte. With that, the seven-man bullpen is set for Opening Day, with lefty Darin Downs and high-strikeout middle relievers Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal joining long reliever Drew Smyly and veterans Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who announced the moves, said manager Jim Leyland will mix and match relievers in the ninth inning according to matchups. He didn’t announce the key members in the committee, but Coke, Benoit and Dotel would be most likely to get the bulk of the save opportunities.
“There’ll be a guy out there in the ninth to close games for us,” Dombrowski said. “We have guys that we feel very comfortable can close games. We may not have a closer anointed, but we have many guys that we think can close games. And so Jim will, kind of like he did in the postseason at times last year, mix and match.”
As for Rondon, he’ll be the closer for the Mud Hens as he tries to find the consistency that eluded him at enough points this spring to leave Tigers officials uneasy about opening the season with him in the big leagues.
“As you know, we like him a lot,” Dombrowski said. “He has thrown the ball very well at times this spring. All the times, you can see his arm strength and all that’s attached. But we just thought he would benefit a little bit more by some more development time. Very similar to guys like, say, [Avisail] Garcia or [Nick] Castellanos, premium prospects that we just think would benefit by more time at Triple-A.
“At times, he has been very, very good, and at other times, he’s been very inconsistent.”
Rondon had a rough start to the spring as he worked through some mechanical issues. A tweak in his delivery from pitching coach Jeff Jones seemed to get him into a dominant form, but he struggled in a couple outings down the stretch, including a rough appearance Wednesday in which he walked two batters and let in a walk on a balk after he and catcher Alex Avila had a mix-up on signs.
All the while, those struggles took place under the scrutiny of team officials, talent evaluators and media alike.
“Obviously [Tuesday] he was lights-out, but I think everybody has unrealistic expectations,” Avila said Wednesday. “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.
Rondon finishes his spring with eight runs allowed on 17 hits over 12 1/3 innings. He struck out 19 batters, but walked nine.
Dombrowski left open the possibility of bringing Rondon up, maybe even relatively quickly. However, he said, “I don’t want to put a time frame on it.”
The decision, Dombrowski said, does not change his approach on the trade market. He said they do not have anything in the works, reliever or otherwise, to bring in anybody at this point.
“You still don’t leave any stone unturned,” Dombrowski said. “but I don’t have anything I’m on the verge of. If anything happened right now, it would be completely something that I’m not [currently] working on.
“It’s happened. that’s why I don’t want to discount it. But the way I look at it is, you keep talking to people, you keeping looking, you see what happens. I notice who’s on waiver wires. I’ve talked to different clubs. Our scouts have talked to different clubs. I mean, it would really come out of the blue. And I would think that tomorrow, when we’re heading out, I would think we’d be settled unless something totally unexpected happens.”