Rondon hangs on after save slips away
Hard-throwing righty adjusting to closer's role with Tigers
HOUSTON -- Bruce Rondon has spent 2 1/2 years as the Tigers' closer of the future. It's about time to figure out what he can do with the job in the present.
That doesn't just mean seeing if he can save a game in the ninth inning, but also how he reacts when he blows one. In that respect, Saturday night was a very good test, even after it wasn't a save opportunity anymore.
"You have to have a short memory as a closer," manager Brad Ausmus said after the Tigers' 4-2 win over the Astros.
Rondon's first blown save since getting his chance at closer a week ago was a quick one. His 1-2 pitch to Tigers killer Preston Tucker leading off the ninth came in at 100 mph and went out at 108 mph, according to Statcast™. It went on a line to right-center field for Tucker's third game-tying homer against Detroit this season.
It was a pitch he and catcher James McCann agreed upon, McCann said, and one Ausmus supported afterward.
"With a closer in a one-run game, it's an extremely small margin of error," Ausmus said. "If he goes up with that fastball, he's probably perfectly fine. It was just a little bit more down in the zone where Tucker was able to drop the barrel on it."
Said McCann: "We were trying to go up in the zone. He hadn't caught up to the heater yet. Unfortunately, we missed our spot and he took advantage of it."
The save chance was over, but the game was not. Rondon had a 1-1 game with the middle of the Astros' order up and nobody out. And after Anthony Gose's diving catch retired Carlos Correa for just the second time all series, Jed Lowrie's single off an 0-2 changeup put the potential winning run on base.
Up came Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus with a chance to end it. Rondon responded with his best pitches of the night.
Rondon took a little off his first two fastballs to Gomez, but spotted them well, leaving Gomez fouling them off. With an 0-2 count, Rondon went to three consecutive sliders, Gomez finally whiffing on the third.
Rondon changed speeds again to Rasmus, getting him in a 1-2 count before trying to get him to bite on 99-mph fastballs. With the count full, Rondon buried a slider in the dirt that Rasmus chased to end the inning.
"He's definitely got the stuff," McCann said of Rondon. "There's not a lot of guys that can consistently throw 100 mph. And his off-speed stuff is leaps-and-bounds better, and it continues to improve."
He'll get the chance to show he can learn from Saturday. The next save opportunity will be Rondon's, Ausmus said.