Detroit Tigers–Big Fish Verlander, Rondon Close To Return


Ten months ago the Detroit Tigers paid dearly to obtain a top-flight starting pitcher (David Price) and a quality reliever (Joakim Soria) for the stretch run.

Seven weeks into this season, they will soon add two pitchers of similar skill to their active roster.

This time their services will come a lot cheaper.

We’re speaking of the imminent return of Justin Verlander and Bruce Rondon, which should provide a welcome infusion of pitching talent to a team in need of a boost in that department.

Justin Verlander

Verlander went on the disabled list on March 27th with a right arm triceps strain and hasn’t pitched since. He’s been re-habbing and lately has been throwing pain-free, and could be returning to the active roster in the not too distant future.

Though the 32 year-old probably won’t reclaim the dominant form he exhibited several years ago, he should immediately upgrade the starting rotation.

Last year he was 15-12, with an ERA of 4.54 and a WHIP of 1.40. Whereas these are not the numbers of an ace pitcher, should he pick up where he left off, he’ll fit comfortably into a mid-rotation role.

So what happens to the composition of the starting staff upon Verlander’s return?

There’s only one obvious answer, which is to sincerely thank Kyle Lobstein for his good services while handing him a bus ticket to Toledo.

Lobstein has performed admirably in a back-up capacity–in 42 innings, he is 3-4, with a 4.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.40.

But Lobstein is challenged to hit 90 mph with his fastball, and to be effective must carry precise command and control into every outing. More so than most pitchers, he also cannot afford to draw an umpire with a postage-stamp strike zone.

Further, he is the type of pitcher who tends to get hit appreciably harder as teams gain greater exposure to his style of pitching.

All in all, he’ll be able to continue to refine his arsenal in AAA, and will be only a phone call away when the Tigers inevitably need an emergency starter.

As for Verlander, it’s an interesting exercise to project his performance for the balance of the year. If spring training is a reasonable yardstick, Verlander’s velocity will sit in the low 90’s, while occasionally touching 95-96 mph.

Early indications also suggest Verlander’s deadly curve ball of old might be contemplating a return engagement, but whether that’ll transcend his triceps injury remains to be seen.

In any case, Verlander’s prospective return should be a tonic for a starting rotation that is sixth among the 15 American League teams in starters’ ERA (4.09) with a quarter of the season in the book.

Bruce Rondon

The burly 24 year-old is once again approaching game readiness, a fact that doubtless will spawn the usual commentary from two opposing camps:

“Rondon is the long-promised eighth inning lock-down guy!”, the optimists will say, with a nod to Rondon’s premium velocity.

“I dunno, but it’s pretty hard to get hitters out from the disabled list”, the wags will counter.

You can make a case for each contention.

Rondon possesses one of the game’s most turbo-charged fastballs. He throws an easy 95-97 mph, and can pierce the century mark seemingly at will. To complement the heat, he throws a hard 90 mph slider, and also has a developing change-up.

It’s a closer’s repertoire, and so thought the Tigers in 2013 when Rondon was declared the team’s ninth inning solution coming into spring training. Unfortunately, inexperience and bouts of wildness dashed the master plan and Rondon spent most of the first half receiving his mail in Toledo, Ohio.

He resurrected his season in Detroit in the second half, posting solid numbers (3.45 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 29 innings) and even flashing brilliance at times. Alas, he suffered two service interruptions due to arm problems in September, the second of which cashiered his postseason, crippling the team’s bullpen.

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Last year, of course, Rondon blew out his elbow in March and was lost for the entire season. Again, his loss was felt acutely in a Tiger bullpen that was the team’s weakness.

So you can’t blame Tiger fans for being frustrated upon learning, yet again, that Rondon would start this season on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. But like Verlander, he’s been working assiduously to re-establish himself, and could be ready to contribute soon.

With the Tiger bullpen pitching surprisingly well in May, though, the question is which right handed reliever Rondon will unseat when he returns.

Expect that question to be answered in the next couple weeks.

The Bottom Line

Barring further setbacks, the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff will soon more closely resemble the group that coming into spring training was envisioned to break camp with the team.

You never have enough pitching, as the saying goes, and the return of Justin Verlander and Bruce Rondon should nicely augment the major league staff while enhancing the pitching depth at Toledo.

This is not to say that come the trade deadline, general manager Dave Dombrowski won’t go on his annual mid-summer fishing expedition in search of more pitching talent.

But it’s comforting to know if the price of deep-sea trophy fishing becomes prohibitive in July, the Tigers will already have landed a couple of homegrown lunkers from their private pond in Verlander and Rondon.

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