Fenech: Looks like Rondon finally ready for closer's role
They could see it in his eyes.
The look was different, Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said recently. Defensive coordinator Matt Martin thought so, too.
"When he goes out there, he seems to have this look in his eye and body language that I'm going to get this guy out," Ausmus said. "This guy's not going to get a hit off me."
Maybe Rondon is fully healthy.
It takes time to recover from elbow ligament reconstruction surgery, which the right-handed reliever underwent at the outset of last season. For the first two months of this season, it looked as if he had yet to shake the consistency and command issues that come with the rehabilitation.
"There's definitely a psychological aspect to coming back from a major injury," Ausmus said.
Maybe it's maturity.
Take, for instance, this snapshot of his recent success: Top of the ninth Saturday against the Boston Red Sox in his first save opportunity in two seasons. Tigers up a run. Two outs. Tigers tormenter David Ortiz at the plate.
After jumping ahead of Ortiz, 1-2, Rondon and young batterymate James McCann carefully chose to keep the next three pitches out of Ortiz's wheelhouse, walking the star slugger on a low slider in a full count.
The next batter, Pablo Sandoval, struck out looking on that same slider.
"Not only did he have that look in his eye," Ausmus said, "he also pitched intelligently."
Maybe it is the closer's mentality.
With Joakim Soria gone and right-hander Alex Wilson and left-hander Blaine Hardy serving as Ausmus' save men at the back end of the bullpen, maybe Rondon, 24, sees the writing on the wall and is ready to seize his opportunity.
It was two seasons ago that former president and general manager Dave Dombrowski anointed him the closer-to-be entering the 2013 season, only to get left behind on the plane trip north for Opening Day. He eventually made it to the big leagues, pitching 30 games in an undefined role in front of closer Jose Valverede and setup man Joakim Benoit, the last of those games a strike-out-the-side performance after a lengthy stay on the sideline with elbow soreness, which would foreshadow an even lengthier stay in the future.
Rondon has a closer's stuff. He throws 100 m.p.h. His slider, Ausmus said, has been tighter lately. At the call of his catchers, he has relied on it more lately, cruising at a more comfortable velocity in the upper-90-m.p.h. range and keeping the triple digits in his back pocket. Minutes after the Tigers moved Soria, Dombrowski reiterated the club thinks Rondon's future is as a closer.
He is 2-for-2 in save situations. He has allowed two runs and four hits in his past 10 outings, with 12 strikeouts spanning 12 innings. He has the best stuff in the bullpen.
And now, Rondon is in line — and perhaps the favorite — to fill the closer role for the remainder of the season.
With their postseason chances sinking but not sunk, the next month and a half will serve as a proving ground of sorts for a number of players.
The most important is Rondon, who has the chance to step up and seize the role he has been destined for.
"I think you can certainly see a different look in his eye," Ausmus said. "He's got a more confident body language. He's attacking the hitters."
And with that look in his eye and the opportunity looking him square in the eye, the future is now for Rondon.
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On deck: Astros
Series: Tigers at Houston for three games, tonight through Sunday.
TV/radio: Tonight — 8:10.
Saturday — 7:10. Sunday — 2:10. All games on Fox Sports Detroit; WXYT-AM (1270) and WXYT-FM (97.1).
Pitchers: Tonight — RH Alfredo Simon (10-6, 4.74 ERA) vs. LH Dallas Keuchel (13-6, 2.40), Saturday — RH Justin Verlander (1-5, 4.57) vs. RH Collin McHugh (13-6, 4.22), Sunday — LH Matt Boyd (1-3, 7.11) vs. RH Mike Fiers (5-9, 4.03).