Rondon lets Tigers' lead slip away in big spot

Ausmus was hoping righty could bounce back after incident with Royals

July 29th, 2017

DETROIT -- was back in the Tigers' clubhouse and bullpen Friday, two days after his fastball off Mike Moustakas' hip in a blowout loss cleared the benches and sparked hostilities, including from Royals pitcher Danny Duffy.

"If he doesn't want to compete in a situation that's not sexy, they should just send [him] home," Duffy said at the time.

On Friday, Rondon got a "sexy" high-leverage situation, taking over in the eighth inning with a two-run lead and facing the top of the Astros' lineup. And after 's three-run homer sent the Tigers to a 6-5 loss, manager Brad Ausmus explained the move to go with Rondon after seven quality, efficient innings from .

It began with the hesitation of giving the top of the Astros' lineup -- including after a triple and a double in his first two at-bats -- another shot at Zimmermann. But with Rondon, it was more complex than that.

If Rondon is staying in the Tigers' bullpen, he's going to get work. If he wanted high-leverage work, he was going to get it Friday.

"When Bruce is into the outing, he's a lot more effective," Ausmus said, "and I was hoping it gave him some incentive."

Asked what he wanted Rondon to get from it, Ausmus said, "I wanted him to get three outs without a run is what I really wanted. But I felt like this gave him an opportunity also to redeem himself."

Redemption has been an ongoing saga for Rondon, who was sent home with two weeks left in the 2015 season for what was classified as effort level after his fastball was noticeably slower in a game. He had been lifted from the closer's role just before that.

Rondon had established himself as the Tigers' setup man since his return from Triple-A Toledo a month ago, making Wednesday a puzzling situation. The hit-by-pitch happened in the ninth inning of what was then a 14-2 Royals lead. The 99-mph fastball off Moustakas' hip was Rondon's hardest pitch of the night, slightly harder than his previous pitch that was also inside on Moustakas.

Asked after that game if there was any concern about Rondon's maturity, Ausmus said, "No more than I was yesterday."

Ausmus hadn't heard from Major League Baseball about any potential discipline as of Friday. As for potential discipline from the Tigers, Ausmus said he hadn't talked with general manager Al Avila and didn't plan to. Any discipline or demotion would be collaborative.

Ausmus talked with Rondon before the game and laid out the scenario for his next outing.

"I felt like his head was in the right place," Ausmus said. "I told him, 'Be ready for the eighth like you have been before.' He was aware that it was a possibility."

Zimmermann needed just 80 pitches, 61 strikes, to get through seven innings, retiring 11 of his final 12 batters. But it was also his deepest outing since mid-June, which partly explains why and were warming in the seventh.

"Zimm had pretty much done his job," Ausmus said. "He'd gone seven innings. He was coming back around the lineup another time. Rondon had done a pretty decent job for us in the eighth inning."

Once Zimmermann retired the bottom of Houston's lineup in order, Ausmus shook his hand on a good night's work and let him know he was done.

"I'm never going to argue with him," Zimmermann said. "I'd like to stay out there, but we've got a lot of fresh arms in the bullpen, guys with electric stuff. It just didn't work out tonight."

Rondon came out throwing upper-90s fastballs, but he gave up a ground-ball leadoff single to . Rondon went with sliders to Altuve, but he gave up a line-drive single on an 0-2 pitch. Up came the go-ahead run in Reddick, who took a high first-pitch fastball for a ball before fouling off an elevated slider.

Rondon went back to the slider, but he left it over the plate. Reddick jumped it.

While the effort level was seemingly there, the pitches were not.

"Obviously, his slider wasn't good tonight and he really didn't have his good fastball," Ausmus said, "and the results kind of played that out."

Asked if Rondon's role could change, Ausmus said he'd have to discuss it with him before discussing it with the media.

"We'll see going forward," he said.