Things were getting more than a little serious with the Detroit Tigers and their rookie Bruce Rondon.
The 22-year old fireballer had struggled mightily with his control to start his second spring campaign, allowing an alarming five walks over his first 3.2 innings. Sure, he was still striking people out (six whiffs during that span), but that kind of command isn’t what the Tigers wanted to see, let alone to put in the ninth inning of games.
So the wheels began spinning about what the team might do as a contingency plan. On one hand, there was manager Jim Leyland trying to allay the the worries from the fans and saying that the team has options; on the other hand, they were being linked back to Jose Valverde.
Just when it looked like the Tigers were getting to the point of pushing the panic button on the Rondon closer experiment, the rookie came roaring (pun wasn’t intended, but still not half bad) back into the race.
In his last pair of one-inning outings, Rondon has allowed a couple of hit each to go with three strikeouts. That might not sound like much of a big step, but add in the fact that he allowed no walks or runs in either outing, and you can see why the Tigers are suddenly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel here.
Of course, that light was always going to be there. As with any rookie, there are going to be ups and downs, and that especially applies to someone who is coming in with the expectation that he’ll start the season as the team’s closer.
That plan might still be in play, but the Tigers skipper is being as coy about it as ever. According to Jason Beck of MLB.com, the manager would not commit to any sort of solid answer when it comes to the Tiger’s ninth inning, saying simply that it’s “possible” the team could employ the fantasy baseball players’ worst nightmare: a closer-by-committee.
If so, a committee would presumably be four-strong, and include Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, and Octovio Dotel. Al Alburquerque might work as a darkhorse fifth. Who knows, maybe they’ll call Papa Grande too.
I suspect that this coyness is really just to give the team some more time, though. Rondon is still likely guy the Tigers want for the job just based on stuff, and if the Tigers are going to ease him in the ninth-inning role in a committee, I’d imagine it won’t last long, assuming the rookie doesn’t fall apart in his first couple of opportunities.
That said, Rondon can also just throw a few more innings without walking anyone, and simply put the idea to rest before Opening Day.