Rondon staying in Toledo for now, and other Tigers bullpen questions answered
Bruce Rondon didn’t have the easiest of ninth innings, giving up a two-run homer, but he finished out another Mud Hens win, this one an 8-5 victory that did not count as a save situation. The two runs only raised his ERA on the year to 1.63. He has a chance to be a Triple-A All-Star, if not a Futures Game return participant, and he remains the guy the Tigers see as the long-term answer to their closer role.
They just don’t see him filling that role right now, even with all the upheaval in the Tigers bullpen. The evaluations are strong, but the opportunity apparently is not, though that might not be a unanimous opinion.
“Rondon has thrown the ball very well for us,” Tigers president/GM Dave Dombrowski said. “He continues to improve. He continues to work on some of the things that he needs to work on, his breaking stuff, his command of his fastball, his quickness to the plate.
“Some people [in the organization] think he’s ready to come here and pitch right now and do a good job for us. However, it’s a situation here where with the way our starters have pitched and go deep into games, if [Al] Alburquerque’s going to pitch more the eighth inning — and a lot of people think Rondon’s mindset is ninth-inning closer yet at this time — we figure that if you bring him here, I’m not sure that he’ll work on a regular basis yet. And we still think it’s more advantageous for him today to keep working at Triple-A and keep developing with the situation we have here, and we’ll see how this goes. It wouldn’t surprise me at some point this year if he’s ready to help us, and he really has grown by leaps and bounds. I think very highly of him.”
I’m not sure whether any developments up here would change that. An injury might, but with the trade deadline a month away, another funk from another reliever might simply lead the Tigers to the trade market for somebody.
Considering how highly the Tigers thought of Rondon going into Spring Training, then you can make the case that a full year of development is a surprise. If the Tigers could’ve known going into camp that Rondon would be learning at Triple-A Toledo at this point in the season, it would be interesting to know if that would have changed anything with their approach.
As it is, at least Joaquin Benoit appears set to get a real shot to see if he can close for an extended stretch, even if it comes with limitations.
“Benoit, we like a lot. He’s closed games,” Dombrowski said. “I think the difference between Benoit compared to some other closers is — and Jim’s very good at working with him on this — he’s not a guy that’s going to get the ball four days in a row. That’s just not how he is. But he’s got some other guys he can use at that time.”
That question, that point about pitching him consecutive games, might explain why the Tigers have not named him the closer in the past. Considering Detroit has only one off-day left before the All-Star break, it’ll certainly have an impact.
“A manager, ideally, you’d like to give the ball here to a person in the eighth inning three days in a row, the ninth inning three days in a row. That’s the ideal circumstances,” Dombrowski said. “Doesn’t mean that they can’t do it other ways, but we don’t really have a club that’s built that way with our bullpen right now, because Benoit’s not a three-days-in-a-row guy. Smyly’s really not a three-days-in-a-row guy. But we are deeper into the game than most clubs are with their starting pitching. So it’s a little bit different way of handling it. He’ll do it. He does a great job handling it. We have the ability to do so. Some guys need to step up.”
The quote that drew some reaction online this afternoon, the quote about being comfortable with the bullpen as it stands, is a catch-22. Dombrowski has never been one to map out his plan in public when it comes to the midseason trade market, so he isn’t going to say something otherwise. He also isn’t going to rule out a bullpen mix before it has had a chance, though he might have made an early decision on Valverde when they called him up back in April.
“We’re comfortable with this group right now,” Dombrowski said. “I can’t speak for August. I’m not a fortune-teller. As it is, we’re comfortable with this group as we stand now. But you never know what happens with anything. I never know what happens with any position on this team. That’s why I watch us play day in and day out. But we like this group. We think it has a chance to win for us.”
In other words, this is a wait-and-see situation for Dombrowski. He has just under six weeks before the July 31 trade deadline. By that point, the line between contenders and pretenders around baseball should be a little bit clearer. So should the bullpen.