Detroit — One name. One pitcher. One opportunity looms for a particular Tigers job contestant during the regular season’s final two weeks.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus’ answer was automatic Monday when asked what Tigers player had a chance during the team’s final 14 games to most affect his status ahead of the 2016 season.
“Bruce Rondon,” Ausmus said, a few hours before the Tigers and White Sox were to meet at 1:08 p.m. in the first half of a day-night doubleheader at Comerica Park.
Rondon is a 24-year-old right-handed reliever with, by all accounts, potentially the best arm and power-pitching package of anyone on the Tigers staff.
But those numbers are reflective of a man who has all but flunked his 2015 exam.
Rondon’s ERA in 34 games is 6.00. His WHIP is an unsightly 1.67. He has struck out 36 batters in 30 innings, a number in keeping with his robust fastball-slider combination. But he has walked an unforgivable 19 batters, while allowing too many hits: 31.
For a pitcher who was supposed to have been apprenticing ahead of becoming the team’s eventual closer, 2015 has been a mini-disaster.
That is, unless Rondon is able to restore at least a measure of confidence — in himself and in his bosses — in these waning days.
“He’s got tremendous abililty,” Ausmus said. “He just needs to throw strikes and get outs on a consistent basis.”
Rondon was looking two years ago as if he had figured out big-league hitters and was ready to become a back-end bullpen blowtorch.
But he strained a forearm muscle in early September and never pitched in another game in 2013. He again was sharp and powerful during 2014 spring camp before shredding an elbow ligament in late March that brought on Tommy John surgery.
He has been fighting this season to regain steadiness. The process has not been easy on Rondon, or on the Tigers.
He seemed at times this summer to be backing away in too many instances from a fastball that can run 100-mph-plus. Then, during an appearance last week, he over-corrected, throwing too many fastballs minus his slider or change-up.
“He’s trying to do the right thing,” Ausmus said. “He’s still young and learning.”