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Rondon volunteers for TigerFest, winter caravan

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Take this for what it’s worth.

Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon, sent home by the team with two weeks left in the season for a lack of effort, was the first player to volunteer to be part of TigerFest and the winter caravan.

“True story,” general manager Al Avila said. “I’m not making it up. That’s a good sign. Plus, before he left, he did tell me that his intention was to play winter ball and get ready for the season. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the lesson is learned, and he comes back ready to go.”

Rondon, who will play in Venezuela this winter, struggled on the mound (5.81 ERA) and became increasingly dispirited. In his last outing, he seemed to be throwing at less than full effort, his normally upper-90s fastball registering in the low-90s.

Avila made it clear it will take more than his enthusiastic participation in the team’s offseason barnstorming events to get back in good graces.

“Bruce Rondon over the years, I’ve had many conversations with him,” Avila said. “He’s trying to figure it out. To a certain degree, you have to understand — we all come from different backgrounds. We all have different experiences and everybody learns at a different pace.

“Everybody’s maturity level arrives at a different time, so it’s up to us to really handle that situation, and at the end of the day figure out if it’s going to work or not.”

Avila said nothing will be given to Rondon this spring. He will have to earn his way back on the 25-man roster.

“If he returns a mature young man, he’s got all the ability in the world,” he said. “The ability’s there. Everybody’s seen it. … It’s a matter of all the other intangibles that every other player at some point goes through. Some easier than others.”

Machado vs. Iglesias

Avila praised the development of shortstop Dixon Machado, but he stopped well short of saying he’s ready to unseat starting shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose season was limited to 120 games.

“In our situation, we are not rebuilding, we are going in trying to win a championship,” Avila said. “So the less amount of question marks you have, the better. The less amount of question marks you have on paper, the better you are.

“What are question marks? They are young players who really haven’t been tested at the major league level, and that is Dixon Machado. It would behoove us to go in with minimal question marks.”

About left field

Doesn’t sound like the Tigers will be making a push for left fielder Yoenis Cespedes in free agency — or perhaps any other potentially expensive free-agent outfielder.

“Everybody is talking about left field,” Avila said. “But it depends on how the market develops and our expenditures on pitchers. After that, then we can take a look at outfielders.”

Tyler Collins will have a shot at winning the left field job next spring, and Avila held open the possibility of re-signing free agent-to-be Rajai Davis.

“Collins got a big opportunity this year and he showed he can play at the big league level,” Avila said. “He got some big hits for us.”

Around the horn

Avila said there have been internal discussions about a contract extension for right-fielder J.D. Martinez.

Martinez is arbitration eligible and is under the Tigers’ control for two more years.

“I’m not going to get into it,” he said. “But we would have interest in something like that.”

… Avila was asked directly about outfielder Steven Moya, who struck out 162 times in Triple-A this season and had 10 strikeouts in 22 at-bats in Detroit.

“I don’t know that he will cut down on strikeout enough to appease everybody’s expectations,” he said. “For me, it’s production. Can he hit enough home runs and drive in enough runs so you can live with the strikeouts? I don’t look at it like he has to drop strikeouts. I look at it like he has to increase his homers and RBIs.”

… Avila said the only potential Tigers free agent that was told he wouldn’t be back is utility infielder Josh Wilson.

“Nobody went home saying ‘See ya later. Good luck,’ ” Avila said. “I think the guy that came closest to that was my own son, Alex. He was saying his goodbyes like he was not coming back at all. Which, in reality, I would say it would be probable, but just because he will probably get something out there which might be more beneficial to him.”

… The following Tigers are set to play winter ball in Venezuela: Rondon, outfielder Wynton Bernard, Machado and pitcher Angel Nesbitt. Playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic are reliever Neftali Feliz, infielder Jefry Marte, Moya and pitcher Jose Valdez.

… Avila defended the clubhouse leadership this season. He admitted the Tigers probably missed a vocal leader like Torii Hunter, but added, “We do have guys on the team that took leadership roles in a more quiet way.”

He mentioned Alex Avila, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Justin Verlander. As for looking for a Hunter-type in free agency, Avila said. “I’d rather have a guy that’s going to knock in 100 runs than a guy who will drive in 60 and be a real good, rah-rah, let’s bring the team together guy,” he said.