Tigers’ closer prospect Rondon struggles

LAKELAND, Fla. — Tigers manager Jim Leyland is tired of talking about Bruce Rondon, even though Leyland knows he has to make a decision soon.

Rondon probably can’t do anything without feeling he’s under a microscope these days.

Pitching on the second of back-to-back days, Rondon allowed two runs on two hits,  walked two and struck out one in the seventh inning of a 4-1 exhibition loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Obviously (Tuesday), he was lights-out, but I think everybody has unrealistic expectations,” catcher Alex Avila said. “Every time he pitches, you guys ask how he did.

“It seems like everybody expects him to have a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts every time. That’s never going to be the case.”

Avila blamed himself for Rondon being called for a balk, which allowed a run to score.

“I felt bad because I was giving him a sign and he didn’t really give me a yes or no, and I thought he wanted a different pitch,” Avila said. “As he was coming up, I gave him a pitch, he saw it and kind of just stopped.”

With the outing, Rondon’s ERA now stands at 5.84.

“He had a lot of movement on his fastball, he threw some really good sliders,” Avila said. “Just a couple at-bats, he was a little out of the strike zone. I thought two or three times, he got a little bit unlucky where some of the balls were hit.

“That’s part of the game, but I thought he threw OK. Obviously, there’s room for improvement.”

Leyland said he’s gotten to know Rondon despite a little language barrier.

“I think he’s a very personable kid, a happy kid,” Leyland said. “I think ‘kid’ is the key word in that sentence, probably. He’s a young kid yet, another one of those good faces.

“The one thing that I have seen about him that has actually been pretty impressive, he’s pretty much the same all the time.”

Rondon is just 22, and even though he’s got a lot of Venezuelan countrymen around him, the scrutiny has to be difficult.

“He’s trying his fanny off to make the team, and everything’s been written so much about it,” Leyland said. “It’s got to affect him a little bit. I think he’s handled things pretty darn well.”

Verlander’s ready

Justin Verlander made his final spring start Wednesday, taking the loss and falling to 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA.

But all he wanted to do was make sure he got his work in.

“I got everything accomplished that I wanted to,” Verlander said. “Today the focus was better breaking balls, curveballs and sliders, and I felt like I was able to accomplish that.”

There was a slight scare when Ben Revere hit a ball that came back at Verlander, who still managed to retrieve it and throw to first to end the fourth inning.

“It got me on the heel,” Verlander said. “Just a little sore. No concern though.”

Verlander was also able to have a little fun with his manager when he came out of the game after 5 2/3 innings.

Said Verlander: “He told me before the inning started, he said, ‘You’ve got 10 more pitches. Don’t be giving me this crap (waving him away) when I start coming out there.’

“I knew how many pitches I had thrown. I knew I was right at 100, so as soon as I got that guy out, I started walking off the field like it was the end of the inning. I asked him if this was quick enough.”

Smyly gets his work in

Drew Smyly, who will begin the season in the Tigers’ bullpen, started a minor-league game Wednesday.

Pitching for Triple-A Toledo against Triple-A Gwinnett, the Atlanta Braves’ affiliate, Smyly allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits, walked two and struck out five.

Former Tigers stop by

The Tigers got to see two former teammates Wednesday.

In camp with the Phillies this spring are pitchers Zach Miner and Chad Durbin.

Durbin pitched a scoreless inning, and Miner allowed one run on two hits in two innings.

Miner said he very nearly signed with the Tigers again in the offseason but ended up signing with the Phillies around Thanksgiving.

“It’s tough,” Miner said. “You get in situations where you know everybody, you’re comfortable. It doesn’t mean it’s the right place. Sometimes it is.

“Everyone always thinks the grass is always greener. It doesn’t always mean it is.”

Miner bumped into Verlander and jokingly asked, “Justin, are you signing?”