By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Since his underwhelming major league debut in April, Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Bruce Rondon has been working hard and looking good with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
“His stuff’s obviously no question,” Toledo pitching coach A.J. Sager said Friday. “He’s getting better at throwing strikes with different pitches. He’s getting better at holding runners, fielding his position, some of the things that go with the stuff. Basically the easiest way to say it I guess is just that he’s kind of refining the whole part of pitching and not just stuff.
“He’s really done a good job of that,” Sager added. “We’ve been playing better lately so he’s had more chances to get save situations, and he’s done a nice job converting them. I think he’s moving forward as a pitcher.”
Sager said Rondon is doing a better job getting his slider over the plate and that, while Rondon does not need to use his change-up often, he has been working on it as well to complement his 98- to 100-mph fastball.
In 27 games for Toledo this season, Rondon has 14 saves. He has given up just three runs on 12 hits in that time. His ERA is 1.01, and his WHIP is 0.900.
Rondon closed for the Tigers on April 25, April 26 and May 1. He blew his first save by giving up three hits and a run. His second outing was better, as he pitched a scoreless ninth and Detroit won 10-0. In one third of an inning May 1, however, Rondon allowed two hits, walked two batters and ultimately allowed two runs.
“It happens to a lot of guys,” Sager said. “It’s tough to go up there your first time. Obviously the competition’s a lot better, but it’s also just the whole environment, the surroundings. I think that Bruce got a taste of that, got an idea of what the big league’s all about.
“The good thing about him is when he came down he was still as confident as he was before he went up, realized he had some things to work on, and he just went to work on them,” Sager added.
Talk about Rondon and his recent success at the Triple-A level has increased as the Tigers bullpen has continued to struggle recently. Detroit is particularly unsettled at the closer position, as manager Jim Leyland said he will not name someone as the full-time closer.
“It’s a tough job,” Sager said. “You have to be able to handle success and probably more importantly is you have to be able to handle the failure of perhaps blowing a save and then coming back the next day confident that you can get the last three outs of a game for a win.
Accordingly, maturity and mental toughness are huge for the closer role, but Sager said that while experience always helps, a younger pitcher could still be effective in such a pressurized spot.
“Experience would benefit anybody in that role, but again, there’s been others that went up there and did it very early in their career and have been successful doing it, so I don’t think it’s a must-have that you have to be experienced to succeed in that role,” Sager added, “but like anything else, I think it helps.”
When discussing recent roster moves in which the Tigers designated Jose Valverde for assignment and brought up Al Alburquerque, general manager Dave Dombrowski said Detroit will keep Rondon in Triple-A for now but expects him to be a viable option for the Tigers sometime this year.
“We figure that if we bring him I’m not sure if it will 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,” Dombrowski said. “We will see how it goes. It wouldn’t surprise me at some point this year that he is ready to help us. He has grown by leaps and bounds, and we think very highly of him.”