Rondon finding role in Detroit's bullpen

Young righty embracing fresh start since return to Tigers

June 29th, 2016

DETROIT -- Bruce Rondon made the slow walk back to the dugout Tuesday night, having struck out Giancarlo Stanton to lead off the seventh inning, and heard a noise he couldn't have counted on finding again at the Comerica Park. He left to the sound of applause.

The way last season ended for him, as he was sent home in mid-September for effort level after struggling in his stint as the Tigers' closer, he couldn't have counted on getting that reception ever again in Detroit. But so far, his return to the Tigers since being recalled a week and a half ago has been a fresh start.

"He's definitely matured since the end of last year, no question," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He seems to have a better focus. At this point, really, when he's asked to pitch, he takes the ball, doesn't complain. He's been a model citizen so far."

Rondon is doing so without the label of "Closer of the Future," the title he held since 2013. With Joe Jimenez working his way up the Tigers' farm system, now at Double-A Erie and headed for his second consecutive All-Star Futures Game, that future closer role seems to be his. For Rondon, still just 25, the focus is on getting something out of him now.

For now, his role is a bridge between Tigers starters and Detroit's late-inning group of Justin Wilson, Shane Greene and Francisco Rodriguez. And he's filling it quite well.

Rondon entered Wednesday having tossed seven innings of two-hit ball with two walks and seven strikeouts. His lone run allowed was a Nelson Cruz solo homer last Thursday. Tuesday's outing was his first with inherited runners, and while he allowed one to score on a Christian Yelich RBI single, he retired the other three batters he faced in the middle of the Marlins' order to limit the damage.

Three of his five outings have gone four or more outs. Tuesday's three outs spanned two different innings. He's no longer starting with a clean inning and leaving when it's done.

He's also not simply overpowering hitters with fastballs. While his velocity is up across all his pitches, including an average 98.4-mph fastball, his slider has been much more effective. He has yet to allow a base hit off of it, and hitters have swung and missed on it more than half the time.