March 5, 2013
Not Run Down on Rondon
After enduring another rocky season with Jose Valverde, and watching their veteran closer struggle through September before imploding in the playoffs, the Tigers seemed inclined to pass on their ninth-inning job to rookie Bruce Rondon. The 34-year-old Valverde remains unemployed, but if the early returns are any indication, Rondon may not be ready to fill his shoes.
Tigers to give struggling Rondon a break; not pursuing Jose Valverde
Four appearances into his trial, the Tigers have decided to give the 22-year-old a breather. Pitching coach Jeff Jones told Detroit Free Press beat writer John Lowe that he spotted “a couple things that he is doing differently” while reviewing video of Rondon’s recent outings, and he is hopeful that the portly northpaw can improve his command and control by eliminating those mechanical flaws. Rondon is expected to resume his regular spring schedule immediately after the bullpen session with Jones, so we should soon see whether the third-year pitching coach has truly found the cure.
Regardless, questions about Rondon’s ability to step into the closer role are likely to persist into April, if manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski don’t find an excuse to pull the plug. Hudson Belinsky, who profiled Rondon last August, drew mixed opinions from evaluators on his big-league ceiling. Some thought that Rondon’s electric stuff could mask his iffy control, but others cautioned that he might be better utilized as a set-up man—a role in which a more proven reliever would be available to clean up any late-inning messes that his bloated walk rate might create.
Still, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, who spoke directly with Dombrowski over the weekend, the Tigers are committed to giving the rookie a fair shot and are showing no interest in external reinforcements. If Leyland’s bullpen looks the same in four weeks as it does today, then his best alternative to Rondon would likely be a matchup-based approach, with Joaquin Benoit or Octavio Dotel tackling right-handed hitters and Phil Coke spelling them versus lefties. Leyland debunked a report from New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, suggesting that he was campaigning for Dombrowski to bring back Valverde, in a rambling statement to reporters. The gist of Leyland’s position: Valverde should have secured a new deal by now, but that does not mean he will get it from the Tigers.
Leyland added in his Monday afternoon press conference, which came on the heels of the decision to have Rondon skip an appearance, that Detroit’s save opportunities are up for grabs. In his view, Rondon’s audition is part of a larger battle for the job—a true position battle, rather than one with a presumed winner, as some have reported the situation to be.