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After tough '15, Rondon seeks fresh start in spring

Sent home in September, Tigers reliever involved in on-field altercation in Venezuela

DETROIT -- Bruce Rondon will have some redemption to seek when he arrives at Spring Training in February. That was clear long before his involvement in a benches-clearing altercation in the Venezuelan Winter League earlier this month. He won't face discipline by the Tigers, but he'll face the challenge of earning a fresh start after a 2015 season he'd probably like to forget.

"I'm sure he'll take this as a learning experience," Tigers general manager Al Avila told Detroit Sports 105.1 FM last week.

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Avila saw video of Rondon arguing with, then charging at, Pirates prospect Jose Osuna at first base, sparking a massive response that led to nine suspensions. Avila also talked with Leon Durham, longtime hitting coach at Triple-A Toledo, who is serving in a similar role with Rondon's club at Magallanes.

Though Rondon won't face any discipline in the States -- he was reportedly suspended for eight games in Venezuela and hasn't pitched since -- he'll likely get a talk about controlling his emotions, especially in a close game.

"He shouldn't have done that, in my opinion," Avila told Matt Dery and Drew Sharp on 105.1. "If he drilled the hitter on purpose, he shouldn't have done that. … He should have taken the high road."

Though the situation had a history, Avila said, tensions flared when Rondon hit Osuna with a pitch. Osuna yelled from first base at Rondon, who eventually stepped off the mound and challenged him.

This follows the untimely end to Rondon's Major League season, sent home by the Tigers in mid-September for effort level after losing the closer job. Avila said he was told Rondon had been on good behavior, arriving at the ballpark early each day and working out.

"He's been working hard, he's been aggressive and he's been doing all the right things on the field," Avila said. "The report I got from [Durham], who's there every day as one of the coaches, was that Bruce gets there early and works out with everybody and he's been doing really well in preparation for the season."

Aside from games missed, the incident shouldn't impact Rondon's preparation. It's not exactly a rare occurrence, but it furthers the point that Rondon, who turned 25 this month, still has some maturing to do. For all his travails since he entered Spring Training in 2013 as the Tigers' closer of the future, he remains a hard-throwing reliever in a system that has struggled to produce relievers in-house.

"Hey, a brawl on the field, obviously you don't want to see it," Avila said. "It happens several times in baseball. It wasn't the first, and it's not going to be the last, whether it's in winter ball, here in Major League Baseball or in the Minor Leagues. To say you're going to cut ties with Bruce when he still has options left, he's still a young guy that you can still try to work and try to regain some value in him -- and again, still working with his development physically and mentally -- you still have to continue to try to work that out. That's what the Minor Leagues are for."

That's where Rondon looks increasingly likely to begin the season, even before the incident. Detroit's offseason bullpen makeover -- from closer Francisco Rodriguez to setup men Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson -- provides proven depth that wasn't here last season. While manager Brad Ausmus noted several relievers who appear safe to break camp, including Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy, plus potentially Drew VerHagen -- Rondon wasn't one of them. If Detroit signs another reliever, as Avila noted as a goal after the Winter Meetings, that's one less spot open for competition for Rondon.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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