By MARIO IMPEMBA FOX Sports Detroit LAKELAND, Fla. — It was clear that there was a chance it could happen, and it has. Detroit Tigers potential rookie closer Bruce Rondon has come out of the gates very slowly this spring. The overwhelming storyline for a team destined for a storybook season continues to center around the closer.
Rondon threw a side session under the scrutiny of pitching coach Jeff Jones and a slight tweak was made to his delivery. Nothing earth-shattering, but a change nonetheless. The hope is Rondon has enough time to get straightened out and claim the role of closer.
It is far to early to know if it will shake out that way, but one thing is for certain, predictably the skipper is already tiring of the question. The media’s job is to find out where the organization stands on the issue and report it to the fans, but if I’m Jim Leyland, I’m probably hoping the media will let this thing breathe a bit.
Including Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tigers still have 24 more spring games to play. Not to mention the opportunities minor league camp games will afford. It’s just not possible at this point to get concrete answers.
“I never came into spring training thinking it’s a slam dunk that Bruce Rondon would be the closer,” Leyland said before Wednesday’s game. “If he’s not ready, the Detroit Tigers will be just fine.”
Rondon’s early struggles have opened the door to speculation as to what the Tigers will do to fill the position. Everything from trades, to converting Rick Porcello into a closer, have been speculated.
The Porcello idea elicited a quick response. “Highly unlikely,” Leyland said.
So, do the Tigers have any in-house solutions? If you tuned in to the FOX Sports Detroit spring training telecast on Monday, you saw a pretty impressive performance from Al Alburquerque. Why couldn’t he do it?
Brayan Villarreal has the equipment as well. It’s easy to look at dominant raw stuff and think that a guy has what it takes to close games, but Leyland warns of other factors. “You have consider how they will hold up,” he said.
Alburquerque is coming off elbow surgery and Villarreal possesses a max effort delivery for a pitcher with a small frame and small hands. Caution has to be exercised in order to navigate them through the rigors of a major league season.
The other consideration is the mental aspect of the game. “I’ve got a lot of guys that have the stuff to do it, but do they have the mentality?” Leyland said. “The 25th, 26th and 27th outs are different.”
Rondon does not have a lot of experience to draw upon. He has pitched only eight innings above Double-A, but last season was named the Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He was 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA and 29 saves at three different levels.
“Look at his numbers last year, they were good,” said Leyland. “But up here we have three tiers on the stadiums.”
This situation will take care of itself. Whether through a trade, bullpen by committee or Rondon putting it together in the coming weeks. Whatever the outcome, there is no sense in trying to speculate every day on how this will play out.