What Rondon’s shoulder means for bullpen
Four or five days ago, Bruce Rondon had to prove more than simply his health. He had to prove his effectiveness, which briefly looked like it was in question.
He seemed to show the latter when he struck out the side Tuesday night. Now his health is in question again. And he might be running out of time to prove it before Opening Day.
“If he can’t pitch, obviously it’s a lot tougher to be on the team,” Brad Ausmus said of Rondon’s sore shoulder. “In that sense, it’s a big concern.”
It’s not related to the elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery a year ago. Nor is it believed to be related to his sore neck. But for short-term roster matters, it’s a problem.
Rondon needs to show he can pitch back-to-back games in order to pitch in the big leagues. Wednesday was supposed to be his final hurdle toward that, having struck out the side in order Tuesday. Rondon woke up with soreness in his shoulder, Ausmus said, but made the trip to Kissimmee anyway, hoping the soreness would subside once he loosened up.
It didn’t. Now, the Tigers have to think about how the bullpen best lines up without Rondon, whose healthy return ranks among the biggest keys to the Tigers bullpen for the season.
Detroit could go a few different directions to fill the spot. This could be their chance to carry an extra long reliever to cover innings during a week in which the chance of rain increases by the day. Or, the Tigers could try to find someone who best fills Rondon’s previously expected role.
It’s probably fitting, then, that shortly after the Tigers likely get an update on Rondon, Angel Nesbitt will pitch the first inning against the Yankees. He doesn’t have the pure power of Rondon, though he comes close at times. If there’s a Rondon-type replacement in the Tigers bullpen, though, he’s the guy.
If the Tigers look for long relief, it could become the opening for Ausmus to carry three lefties in his bullpen. Kyle Ryan had a better outing than his three-run first inning would suggest, and Tom Gorzelanny retired five batters without much trouble in his first Major League work in two weeks.
Still, replacing what Rondon means to this bullpen is difficult if not impossible among the current crew. He was a major reason behind the potential for improvement among a group of relievers that remains largely the same from last season. In that sense, having a sore shoulder and nothing worse would be a relief in Tigers circles.