Sep 24, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Tigers won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
One of the Detroit Tigers additions to the bullpen in 2015 did not come a trade or free agency, but through the recovery of Bruce Rondon. Rondon had Tommy John surgery a year ago in March after he tore a ligament in his elbow and missed the entire season.
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Rondon is now back and firing again in Spring Training. On Thursday, he made his spring debut throwing one shutout inning while surrendering one hit. He pitched again on Sunday against the Miami Marlins and surrendered 1 earned run on 2 hits while walking 1.
The biggest fear for Rondon is that his velocity would not still be there. Rondon easily entered the triple digits in 2013 and had an average fastball velocity of 99.3mph according to FanGraphs. Rondon quelled some of those fears as he hit 100mph on his third pitch. On Sunday, Rondon’s fastball was between 94 and 98mph. One of the biggest obstacles facing Rondon is to find the balance in forgetting about the injury enough to allow him to air his arm out like he did Thursday, but also knowing his body’s limits to not overthrow and hurt himself again.
The key to Rondon’s 2015 season is finding balance, movement, and accuracy in his pitches. Rondon threw 67.2% fastballs, 22.2% sliders, and 10.6% changeups in his rookie campaign in 2013. That is about the balanced split that he will have to keep. Even if you throw 100mph, hits can catch up to it in the Big Leagues. Pitchers need to have movement on their pitches and keep hitters off balance with off-speed and breaking pitches.
If Rondon can mix his pitches with movement and accuracy, he has all of the tools to be as dominant as any reliever. In 2013, Rondon has a 3.45 ERA, 3.01 FIP, and 1.360 WHIP. Rondon had 11 walks in 28.2 IP and will need to control his walk rate to stay effective in 2015.
ZiPS projects Rondon to pitch in 44 games, but they do not believe Rondon will be as productive as Tigers fans hope in 2015. ZiPS projects Rondon at a 4.31 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. My guess is a large part of the elevated WHIP is due to control issues and his walk rate.
The Tigers will need Rondon to be more productive in 2015 to lock down the back end of the bullpen. Rondon will probably start as one of a few pitchers in the 7th inning along with Al Alburquerque and Tom Gorzelanny. If Rondon can be efficient in 2015, he could control the 7th inning or be promoted to the 8th and 9th.