Rondon might close for Venezuela in WBC

DETROIT — Rookie Bruce Rondon, the Tigers’ top prospect to close this season, is being considered by the Venezuelan national team to be its closer in the World Baseball Classic when competition begins in early March.

“I have heard a lot of talk about that,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said, “but we’ve never been officially asked.”

Observations of Rondon during spring training will be critical to determining if he’s indeed up to the challenge of replacing Jose Valverde. Losing two or three weeks of Grapefruit League outings would cut the team’s evaluation period in half.

Dombrowski was asked if he would intervene and have Rondon decline rather than leaving the choice up to him.

“At this point, I would choose not to deal with something that has not been an official request,” Dombrowski said, “We’ll wait and see and talk about it if and when the time comes.”

Dombrowski touched on that possibility during Saturday’s question-and-answer session at TigerFest.

While describing Rondon as the “leading candidate” to be Detroit’s closer, Dombrowski added, “They asked him to play for the World Baseball (Classic) club.”

Evidently Rondon hasn’t been “asked” in an official capacity yet, though.

Rafael Betancourt, who saved 31 games last year for the Colorado Rockies and had a 2.81 ERA, has elected to skip the World Baseball Classic. Major League single-season saves record-holder Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez  (62 in 2008 with the Angels) is on the Venezuelan roster, but was 2-7 with a 4.38 ERA last year and didn’t close for the Milwaukee Brewers.

That leaves the Venezuelans in need of a closer who can get the job done, and Rondon has been effective in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s earned saves in nine of 10 opportunities.

Turning down such an honor is difficult to do in Venezuela, where the passion for baseball is greater than in any other South American country. Baseball is No. 1 ahead of soccer in Venezuela, and that’s not the case anywhere else on the continent.

Venezuela already has Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez set on their roster.