Wojo: Ausmus shares blame for Rondon ridiculousness

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon is removed during the eighth inning after giving up the lead on a three-run homer Friday night.

Detroit  The Tigers aren’t doing much to thrill their fans at the moment. But really, must they also torture them?

Bruce Rondon blew up the other night in a blowout loss, and it was ridiculous. This time, he blew up more conventionally, but it was equally ridiculous. Rondon surrendered a three-run homer to Josh Reddick in the eighth inning as the first-place Astros rallied to beat the Tigers, 6-5, Friday night.

Time to dump Rondon? Sure, fine, whatever. Should he have been disciplined for his bean-ball nonsense the previous game instead of granted a reprieve? Yep. He deserves a demotion, again. I imagine he’ll get a demotion, again.

But this also is on Brad Ausmus for trying to make a futile point with a 5-3 lead in an entertaining game against a prime opponent. He pulled Jordan Zimmermann after seven innings and only 80 pitches, and gave Rondon a quick shot at redemption he didn’t earn, or deserve. Outcomes don’t mean much these days, as the Tigers churn toward Monday’s trade deadline, but they should proceed as if they’re still trying to win games, shouldn’t they?

The Astros opened the eighth against Rondon with a single, a single and Reddick’s bomb, and an enthusiastic crowd immediately  and rightly  turned surly. If the standings still mattered, it would be a devastating loss. Ausmus acted as if the disaster two nights earlier  when Rondon hit Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas with a pitch and was ejected in a lazy mop-up attempt of a 16-2 loss  never happened.

If Ausmus was making a point to GM Al Avila that Rondon shouldn’t be on the team, it was a bad spot to make it, leading the Astros in a tight game. Naturally, Ausmus said that wasn’t his motive at all, that he and Avila make “collaborative” decisions about who’s on the roster.

Wrong place, wrong time

OK, then if Ausmus was merely trying to energize Rondon and show his role as the eighth-inning guy wasn’t altered by one sloppy outing, this wasn’t the place to do it. Rondon isn’t mature enough, or in good enough standing, to get such leeway. This is Ausmus’ fatal strategic flaw, that he sticks to roles in the face of new, contrary evidence.

“I was hoping that, when Bruce is into the outing, he’s a lot more effective,” Ausmus said. “I was hoping to give him some incentive. I wanted him to get three outs without a run. But I felt like this gave him an opportunity also to kind of redeem himself.”

But why do it so quickly, in the very next game, in such a pressurized situation?

“It’s funny, people are acting like he hasn’t pitched the eighth before,” Ausmus said. “I talked to him today, so I felt his head was in the right place. I told him to be ready for the eighth inning like you have been before.”

He wasn’t ready, with a weak fastball and a rising slider. And no, Rondon shouldn’t get another high-pressure shot for a while here, if ever.

The Tigers have been painfully slow to respond to individuals’ woes. It took a long time for Avila to release Francisco Rodriguez, and to send Anibal Sanchez to the minors. There’s a time and place for the Tigers’ respectful approach, and a time and place for more urgency.

Squandered shot

Patience and conventional wisdom always look worse on bad teams because they fail more often. But when the bullpen has been so undependable, why wouldn’t you leave Zimmermann in? Ausmus saw the top of the Astros’ loaded lineup coming up in the eighth, including the great Jose Altuve, and didn’t want Zimmermann to go through it a fourth time.

That’s sound strategy on a normal, sound team, not on the Tigers. Zimmermann hadn’t been dominant but he was efficient, and he said he wasn’t gassed. But he didn’t dispute Ausmus’ decision to pull him.

“I’m not a guy who’s gonna argue with him,” Zimmermann said. “Obviously I’d like to stay out there. He probably saw I wasn’t as sharp as I’d like to be, battling all night, so he went to a fresh arm. I was happy to make it through seven with only three runs with the stuff I had, to be honest with you.”

A respectful response by Zimmermann, and another indication the players aren’t railing or bailing on Ausmus. But they should be ticked off, especially at Rondon, not because he was hit hard by an excellent team, but because he wasted a supreme chance to earn back some trust.

Rondon didn’t speak to reporters afterward, which is a bad, bad look. You’d like a guy to stand up and accept responsibility when required. If Rondon can’t handle the pressure and the scrutiny, he shouldn’t be given the chance, and the Tigers shouldn’t pretend like it will magically work itself out.


Twitter: @bobwojnowski