Port St. Lucie, Fla. — The would-be closer looked like a should-be closer.
"Obviously his best outing," manager Jim Leyland said about Bruce Rondon retiring the side in order Thursday.
Leyland stopped well short of a coronation, though.
For one thing, it was the ninth inning of a windy 9-1 Tigers victory over the Mets.
Not exactly a lot of pressure.
And it's not as if Rondon faced the heart of a dangerous order.
But an unhittable slider is easily identified no matter who's standing at the plate, and if it's his slider for strikes the Tigers have been awaiting, they had to be happy with Rondon's outing.
Rondon threw 12 pitches in the ninth against the Mets, eight for strikes, including two outstanding sliders to shortstop Brian Bixler, the last of which struck him out.
Rondon also threw two 99 mph fastballs in tight on Bixler, a location he had not been throwing to in previous outings.
Rondon was understandably happy about the outing.
Leyland was happy, but far from giddy about his reliever's progress.
"He was a little better," Leyland said. "It was good to see some swing-and-miss breaking balls with pretty good command.
"The regulars weren't in there, but he had a nice outing."
When asked if it also was encouraging to see Rondon go inside with his fastballs (both times at 99), Leyland said, "Well, yeah, but I'm not hung up on that velocity like everyone else is.
"There are so many guys who throw hard now. It's a matter of commanding it. But like I said, their regulars weren't in there, so you take from it what you see."
Through an interpreter, Rondon said it was the best slider he has thrown all spring.
Rondon said he finally had the control he wanted and he was going to try to throw inside more often because pitching coach Jeff Jones has been emphasizing it.
Rondon retired Collin Cowgill on an 0-2 grounder to short to start the inning, struck out Bixler on a 2-2 pitch for the second out, and finished off Jamie Hoffman on a routine fly ball to right on a 2-1 count.
The Tigers won with the help of Matt Tuiasosopo's two-run home run and RBI double, proving again that one player's bad luck can be turned into another's opportunity.
Tuiasosopo started at first only because of Prince Fielder's flat tire en route to the game.
"That was a bomb against the wind, the loudest ball of the spring," Leyland said of Tuiasosopo's home run. "He was a good replacement, but I don't think it's going to be the Lou Gehrig story."