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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tigers send Bruce Rondon back to Triple-A: 'He's just not ready for this'

DETROIT — Strike two.

Given every chance to win the Detroit Tigers then-vacant closer job in spring training, rookie Bruce Rondon could not. Strike one.

Recalled less than a month into the season to give it another go in a much lower-stress situation, he still proved he couldn’t handle it, his one-third of an inning in Wednesday’s loss the clincher. Strike two.

You could see the dejection in the rookie’s body language as he gave up two add-on runs in a one-run game on Wednesday, then had to give up the ball after loading the bases.

After the game, he was optioned back to Triple-A Toledo. Luke Putkonen will be recalled before Thursday’s game in Houston.

“I think he wants to do so good, so bad, I think he probably does show a little bit of emotion, to be honest with you. But that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with emotion,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of the 22-year-old Rondon.

“This is big stakes for players, especially when you’re young players. There’s a lot of emotion that goes with this stuff. Wants to be here bad, you know, doesn’t want to go down — and I understand that — but right now it’s best for him to do that.

“Like I said, we think the world of him, think he’s got a big future.

“I think the best way to put it is, he’s just not ready for this yet.”

Expected to be the Tigers’ closer of the future — or maybe even the present, had he won the job in spring training — Rondon came up within 24 hours of the Tigers bringing Jose Valverde back to the big leagues, meaning he didn’t have to worry about learning that role on the fly.

But he earned a blown save when he gave up the tying run in his first appearance then, after a lower-leverage outing the next night, sat for five days before getting called on again.

“In fairness to Rondon, I just can’t get him enough work. I think (with) the Villarreal situation, and Dotel, we took a shot, but I just couldn’t get the kid enough work,” said Leyland of the low-risk decision to bring up Rondon when veteran Octavio Dotel went on the disabled list, and Brayan Villarreal was sent down for similar control issues.

“He needs to go down there to close games. That’s what we think he’s going to do. We certainly still believe that. But he needs to go down and get some work. You saw today, throw it hard, and they charge it hard.”

At one point Wednesday, Rondon threw three straight pitches at 101 mph, but gave up hits on two of them, the first a laser triple to the right-field corner by Twins rookie Aaron Hicks. One necessary adjustment might be to dial back on the tremendous velocity, in the hopes that he can harness the control a little better on his fastball.

“I think that’s a very legitimate point. You can get outs at 95, 96 with better location. It’s nice to have that extra in your tank if you need it,” Leyland said.

“But right now, he’s just not ready for this.

“When I say that, please don’t think anybody’s down on him, because we think he’s a future closer at the major league level.”

Right now, he just needs to be a closer at the Triple-A level, and work on many of the same things — command of the zone, fastball control, throwing secondary pitches for strikes, slowing down the run game — he struggled with this spring.

“He’ll hopefully make some adjustments,” Leyland said, “and this is good for him, no question about that.”


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