Rondon wastes no time making most of callup

June 19th, 2016

KANSAS CITY -- The Tigers used the Detroit-Kansas City flight for the third consecutive day on Sunday, this time to bring in fresh arms from Triple-A Toledo for a taxed bullpen. It's not the way anyone would have envisioned Bruce Rondon getting his latest shot at the Majors, not when he was Detroit's closer of the future a year ago.

Yet as Rondon stepped off the plane at Kansas City International, along with lefty Kyle Ryan, he did so with the hope of making the most of this next chance.

"I'd like to thank the team for giving me the opportunity to come back to the Major Leagues," Rondon said through a translator. "I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity. I want to stay here."

He didn't need long for his opportunity. With two perfect innings, he kept the Tigers in it in extra innings before the Royals scored off Ryan in the 13th for Detroit's third straight loss, a 2-1 defeat.

It was a different-looking Rondon than the promising but immature youngster who was up and down as a closer last summer before being sent home last September. His fastball regularly hit 98 and topped out at 100 a few times, but it was commanded. More impressive was his slider, a sharper pitch than what he was throwing last season. Rondon struck out three of six batters he faced. All went down swinging at the slider, including lefty slugger Eric Hosmer, who might have faced Ryan had Rondon not looked so dominant against the previous five hitters.

"That's the best I've seen his velocity in a while," catcher James McCann said. "That's the most crisp I think he's looked -- fastball, changeup, slider, everything."

Rondon's stay could well be temporary, no matter how well he pitches. If the Tigers call up Daniel Norris to join the rotation, they'll need to send down a reliever, and Ryan might have a more secure spot as a second lefty behind Justin Wilson. Still, Rondon arrives with the right approach. He has dropped 15 pounds from his heavy frame, he said, and tweaked his delivery, removing the big hip rotation he always had and speeding up his time to the plate.

"It's a little bit quicker leg kick," manager Brad Ausmus said, "and it seemed not only to be effective, but it seemed like his fastball was getting on guys more than it had in the past. "

Rondon got the call with a 2-2 record and 3.74 ERA in 21 2/3 innings for the Mud Hens, walking 16 and striking out 30. This month, however, he has tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits with three walks and 10 strikeouts, including three hitless innings this week.

"For the last six to eight outings, I've pitched well," he said. "I made some adjustments, and I've pitched pretty well since then."

Said Ausmus: "All the reports are his attitude has been real good. He's been working hard. He lost some weight while he was down in Toledo. Hopefully, this is the Bruce Rondon everyone was dreaming about."