Before Bruce Rondon even threw a pitch for the Tigers, he was hyped up to be the savior of the Tigers’ bullpen issues, namely at closer. He was supposed to take up where Jose Valverde left off as a dominate Tigers closer (excluding the playoffs last year, Valverde was in fact a great closer for the Tigers). Rondon struggled in spring training and was left off the opening day roster, but was called up in April and the fans were excited to see what he could do. In his first appearance, he gave up three hits and a run, and blew a save, showing Tigers fans that he could use some more maturing in the minors. He stayed up for a while longer, until another outing in which he gave up two runs in less than an inning, and was promptly sent to Toledo. Since coming back, Rondon has given up a run in only two of his nine apperances, sporting a 3.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. He has been very solid, and Jim Leyland has been great at putting Rondon in situations in which to succeed in order to raise his confidence in himself.
Three of Rondon’s first four appearances had a leverage index of 0.98 or higher (1.00 is average, anything above is a high-leverage situation). Rondon gave up at least one run in all three of these situations, showing he clearly could not handle these tough situations yet. Since then, Leyland has used Rondon in only one appearance in which the leverage index was higher than 1.00 (last night may have been as well), and in that situation gave up a hit but no runs or walks in an inning of work. It has been obvious this year that Rondon is not ready to handle high-leverage situations with regularity, but is working his way up to having the confidence to do so – he already has the stuff.
Bruce Rondon could be a huge part of the Tigers future – in the coming years, but also in the second half of this year. The Tigers bullpen is finally in good shape with a defined closer and set-up man – all Rondon needs to do is prove that he can be another piece this year. Next year, when Joaquin Benoit may or may not be back with the Tigers and when Drew Smyly may or may not be in the rotation, Bruce Rondon could be a much bigger piece. Until then, Rondon needs to learn how to pitch in the big-leagues, and Jim Leyland is handling him perfectly right now while he figures it out.