Road to redemption for Tigers' Rondon begins

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Pitcher Bruce Rondon throws live batting practice.

Bradenton, Fla. — Six months after he was banished by the Tigers, Bruce Rondon was on tap Wednesday to pitch for them. In a big-league game.

Rondon, 25, who probably isn’t among the 50 most popular Detroit Tigers players with a fan base that has become fed up with his misadventures, was among Tigers pitchers slated to work against the Pirates in Wednesday’s game against the Pirates at McKechnie Field.

Rondon has an arm and a brand of bullpen fury that could, or perhaps should, make him a force strong enough to close big-league games. But two years after he had Tommy John surgery, and a half-season after the Tigers ordered him home to Venezuela because of his low-energy discipline, Rondon is auditioning for a bullpen job that might or might not materialize in 2016. In Detroit, anyway.

“His ability will shine through if he has the right approach,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said as the Tigers took batting practice Wednesday ahead of Wednesday’s game, which was also to feature Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh taking a turn coaching first base for the Tigers, and for the Pirates.

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“I think he’s turned the corner. The way he’s been going about his drills, there’s an extra pace to his step.”

Rondon’s bullpen sessions have been another display in his raw power: a mid-to-high 90s fastball. A slider that can leave a hitter wondering how he’s supposed to choose his poison.

But the perceived lack of seriousness, of maturity, of resolve to take the game and his job with absolute commitment, has troubled the Tigers as much as it has irked fans.

And yet the arm and Rondon’s essential decency – the club affirms as much – have combined to equip the team with a pitcher who could become a back-end shutdown pitcher.

That is, if he puts skills and psychology in alignment.

The Tigers were ready for Wednesday’s clues. And preparing, undoubtedly, for just about anything.