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Rondon impresses in White Sox relief debut

MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- Bruce Rondon was asked prior to Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Tigers how it would feel to face his old friend and former teammate Miguel Cabrera.

Rondon, whose contract was purchased by the White Sox from Triple-A Charlotte prior to the contest, said he wouldn't really know until that encounter occurred. After striking out Cabrera to close out the eighth, one of four straight strikeouts recorded by the hard-throwing right-hander, Rondon was able to put the matchup into context.

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CHICAGO -- Bruce Rondon was asked prior to Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Tigers how it would feel to face his old friend and former teammate Miguel Cabrera.

Rondon, whose contract was purchased by the White Sox from Triple-A Charlotte prior to the contest, said he wouldn't really know until that encounter occurred. After striking out Cabrera to close out the eighth, one of four straight strikeouts recorded by the hard-throwing right-hander, Rondon was able to put the matchup into context.

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"It was a really nice experience for me because I knew I was facing one of the best hitters in the world, for me the best," Rondon said through translator Billy Russo. "To be able to face him and to strike him out was a really, really good experience."

Cabrera, a notorious and humorous talker in good times and bad, didn't say anything to Rondon. But he did give him a knowing wink after Rondon topped out at 100.1 mph with his fastball against him, according to Statcast™. Rondon averaged 98.4 mph on 10 fastballs, while also getting three swinging strikes on nine sliders.

Video: DET@CWS: Rondon enters the wrong clubhouse in Chicago

That Cabrera reaction was a little different prior to the game when Rondon went into the visitors' clubhouse upon arrival. It was an easy mistake to make considering Rondon pitched for the Tigers in 2013 and from 2015-17. But after agreeing to a Minor League deal with the White Sox as a non-roster invite to Spring Training, Rondon is now part of the home team and he was reminded of that fact by Cabrera.

"He said, 'Hey loco, what are you doing here?'" the smiling Rondon said.

The 27-year-old went 8-7 with a 5.00 ERA and 133 strikeouts over 111 2/3 innings in 123 relief appearances with the Tigers. He made a career-high 37 relief appearances with the club in 2016, going 5-2 with a 2.97 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings.

Travel visa issues and lower back problems limited Rondon to five games and 5 1/3 innings in Cactus League action this spring, although he pitched well with seven strikeouts and one walk. Rondon thought more work or tuning up with Charlotte might be on the agenda before joining the White Sox, but he was added to the bullpen following one scoreless inning at Durham on Thursday.

Juan Minaya was optioned to Charlotte following Saturday's 6-1 loss to the Tigers. It was a loss during which Minaya faced four batters in the ninth and walked all four, leading manager Rick Renteria to say during the postgame that the team's closer at the end of '17 wasn't pitching with the same level of confidence and needed to find it again in the Minors.

Nate Jones and Joakim Soria have served as late-inning options, and Renteria doesn't see Rondon forcing his way into that role at this point. Sunday's dominant effort over 1 1/3 innings could gradually change that fact.

"His slider was really good today," catcher Welington Castillo said. "Fastball was really good, so he just came in the game and attacked the hitters."

"We knew he had a big arm, and certainly today he showed you what he's capable of doing," Renteria said. "It was an impressive day for everybody in terms of what they saw him do, and hopefully it's something that he'll be able to continue to do as he remains with us."

Regardless of the role, Rondon is eager to take advantage of the new situation.

"Honestly, I needed a fresh start, a change," said Rondon, whose addition filled the White Sox 40-man roster. "Just a start from scratch in another organization with no strings attached. I showed today all the good things I can accomplish."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Bruce Rondon