DETROIT — At this point, the only reliever with a locked down role is that of closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Detroit Tigers remain in search of surefire relievers for the seventh and eighth, but one thing’s for sure: it isn’t Bruce Rondon.
That goes beyond two rough short-lived outings — Rondon hasn’t looked like a dependable reliever all spring, and his velocity was down in Lakeland to the point where Ausmus was concerned. While his first outing (one inning, one hit) wasn’t overly troubling, he still lacked command.
In each of his last two appearances in this young season, Rondon has given up a combined six runs and gotten one out. He’s walked three and given up three hits out of the seven batters faced. The velocity wasn’t an issue on Sunday, Alex Avila said, but the command just isn’t there and the velo has been missing in the past. He wasn’t missing by a little, either — Avila said Rondon was nowhere near where he was asking for the ball.
“I've caught him where he's had really good command and he can hit his spots really well,” Avila said. “Today wasn't one of those days for him. I think, with a few more outings, getting back into the rhythm of the game, he should be alright. I'm not too worried about his velocity. He's still throwing pretty hard. For me, it's always about command. You don't want to walk the first guy.”
Asked about Rondon after the game, Manager Brad Ausmus wouldn’t commit to anything beyond discussing the results with pitching coach Rich Dubee. Whether that results in lower-leverage situations, something more drastic, or just working with game information to pick apart why he’s missing, Ausmus said something will need to be done.
But the bigger problem right now, and really in seasons past, has been that the Tigers just can’t find guys to lock down the late innings. Not consistently. This isn’t about having a lights-out back end at every turn, this comes down to average competency — and more to the point that the Tigers haven’t found it.
Justin Wilson had just pitched consecutive days, or Ausmus would have gone to him. But he can’t turn to the same guy every time without a near-guaranteed burnout by the All-Star Game. Shane Greene was also unavailable, and Ausmus wanted to limit Anibal Sanchez’s usage as he transitions from a starting position to one in relief.
Then, there’s Kyle Ryan, who’s barely back from paternity leave and an adventurous trip back to Detroit.
“I thought about (bringing Kyle Ryan in during the double play challenge), but the problem is, we were short in the bullpen,” Ausmus said. “If I bring him in to face one hitter, and bring Rondon out for the next one, then we’re in trouble. I was able to use Sanchez, but he couldn’t have gone far, because he threw 68 pitches a few days ago.”
So, while Ausmus would prefer to have set roles for all of his relievers at this point in the season, it’s simply not viable just yet. There are too many question marks and not enough outings to fill in the blanks — it’s just going to take trial and error until someone steps up beyond Justin Wilson.