December 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Lynn Henning

Bruce Rondon as closer: Tigers have faith, national pundits don't

Pitcher Bruce Rondon and outfielder Nick Castellanos are two of the brightest young stars in the Tigers' organization. (Janet B. Kummerer / Associated Press)

Twelve days of Christmas? We'll beat those 10 Lords a Leaping with five golden-ring issues the Tigers are tackling between now and spring camp:

1. No one outside of Detroit believes in Bruce Rondon as a closer.

At least once a day I run across a national baseball pundit who insists the Tigers are prepared to sign Rafael Soriano as the bullpen closer the Tigers otherwise don't have heading into 2013.

They just can't believe this Rondon kid, who on Sunday turned 22, will be promoted to the bullpen's highest-profile, heaviest-pressure role.

But he will. Unless he implodes during spring camp. Which he probably won't.

Rondon will walk his share of batters. But with a 100-103-mph fastball, and with a good second-pitch slider, he should be the kind of closer who mows through ninth innings minus the anxiety commonly associated with predecessors Jose Valverde and Todd Jones.

Early in the season, when pressure and scrutiny will be heaviest, his control could be a challenge. But wait him out. He is a bat-busting, shutdown talent who should be fine in 2013.

2. The Tigers will give their greenhorn outfielders a chance to win a job in Florida.

Practically speaking, that means Avisail Garcia will get a shot at cracking the 25-man roster. Nick Castellanos, who is continuing his apprenticeship as an outfielder, likely won't be ready for the big leagues until later in 2013.

Everyone asks why the Tigers don't return Castellanos to his high-school position, shortstop. It's because he is 6-4 and will weigh 225 pounds when he maxes out in a year or two. Ballet steps necessary for shortstop aren't in his repertoire.

Garcia probably gets a bit more time in the bushes, as well. The Tigers want him to play regularly, and not as a platoon guy with Andy Dirks. But this will be an intriguing storyline once camp begins in eight weeks at Lakeland, Fla.

3. What to do about shortstop?

The Tigers are playing it cozy with Jhonny Peralta. He can always begin the season at shortstop if other options don't develop.

But the belief here is they will. The Tigers know this: They must field more ground balls in 2013. And the only place they can realistically boost their defense is at short.

A best-guess scenario is that Peralta will yet be traded to another team as a third baseman. The Tigers will stay involved in the chase for free agent Stephen Drew. Absent signing him, or trading Peralta, they'll go with the status quo only until another trade opportunity for Peralta, or shortstop option, surfaces.

A personal belief remains: If the Tigers opted for Danny Worth they would probably get a surprise on the plus side: .230 or better, 20-25 doubles, 8-10 home runs. With his defense and speed, it would be a net gain over Peralta. But no doubt they will try and do better. What matters is their infield defense. Too many ground balls go for base hits. It can't continue.

4. Starting rotation should be sturdy, 1 thru 5.

Rick Porcello's version of pitching drives some fans batty. Others wonder if Drew Smyly can be trusted.

I wouldn't worry about either in 2013. It's more likely injuries will gash manager Jim Leyland's rotation rather than any shortcomings by Porcello, or by Smyly, who should be terrific.

It isn't only other clubs whose pitchers are lost to Tommy John surgery. The Tigers have been fortunate here, even as the odometer spins and more pitches and innings are racked up by Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister.

If the Tigers can avoid elbow and shoulder maladies that so often rip a rotation, they'll cruise — with Porcello and with Smyly. No team has Cy Young contestants 1 thru 5. The Tigers come about as close as a rotation comes to having front-liners stem to stern.

5. What happens to Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry?

An easy guess is that Boesch will be traded between now and the start of spring camp. But the Tigers could find in Florida that Boesch is in a groove and that he threatens to stay there. Big bonus, if it ever happens. Quintin Berry will have long odds of making the team now that Jeff Kobernus, the speedy player grabbed in last week's Rule 5 pick, is on board.

But that's why you have seven weeks of spring training. Personnel decisions have a way of crystallizing ahead of Opening Day.

lynn.henning@detnews.com

Twitter.com@Lynn_Henning

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