Rondon looks sharp in Tigers' drubbing of Pirates
Bradenton, Fla. – Nothing is sure until he does it repeatedly. And that means Bruce Rondon will need more, a lot more, efforts on a par with Wednesday’s one-inning cameo at McKechnie Field, where the Tigers walloped the Pirates, 10-3, in a Grapefruit League game that featured too many pitches and too many first-week miscues.
But if a potentially vital right-handed reliever is to regain stock with a team that would appreciate his power repertoire, Wednesday was the way to begin.
Rondon arrived in the fourth inning — just after Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh finished his three-inning stint as Tigers first base coach — and pitched a scoreless inning, striking out Starling Marte on a 3-2 slider and coaxing a pair of pop-ups, while allowing a ground single to Sean Rodriguez.
“He looked good,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, whose team got 10 hits, including home runs by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and rookie JaCoby Jones, while holding the Pirates to six hits.
Rondon’s fastball was straight from his files: mid-90s and moving, while his slider, as well as a single change-up thrown, reflected a reliever the Tigers once viewed as their closer.
Rondon was pleased, not only with his pitches, but more likely, with the fact he might have reversed course with the Tigers following a 2015 season of such steady sloppiness the Tigers sent him home early.
He smiled and nodded Wednesday when asked about his pitches — Rondon speaks minimal English.
“His ability will shine through if he has the right approach,” Ausmus said before Wednesday’s game.
“I think he’s turned the corner. The way he’s been going about his drills, there’s an extra pace to his step.”
Two of the Tigers’ best at-bats Wednesday came courtesy of Saltalamacchia, who decided his ability to swing from either side of the plate was worth flaunting.
In the Tigers’ four-run first, batting right-handed, he ripped a double up the left-center-field gap. In the sixth, he slammed, left-handed, a long homer past the right-field fence.
“It never feels good at the same time,” said Saltalamacchia, referring to his opposite-side swings. “I’m just trying to be a little smarter, not trying to pull the ball.”
Saltalamacchia has played nine seasons in the big leagues but is only 30 and, because of his power (.474 slugging percentage in 2015), could bring the Tigers a helpful bat off the bench or as James McCann’s fill-in at catcher.
“He scuffled a little bit last year,” Ausmus said, referring to Saltalamacchia’s .225 batting average in 79 games for the Marlins and Diamondbacks. “But he’s shown that capacity for power.”
The Tigers got another home run Wednesday from Jones, his second of the week. This one was an opposite-field liner that cleared the right-field fence.
Jones, 23, will miss the first 38 games of the 2016 season because of a suspension for having used non-addictive drugs in 2015.
“Got some power,” Ausmus said. “He’s a big kid (6-foot-3, 205 pounds). He’s still got some developing to do. But you can see the skill set.”
They threw too many pitches and missed too many spots. But the brunt of the work done Wednesday by four pitchers dueling for 25-man roster jobs was acceptable, Ausmus said.
Buck Farmer, Jeff Ferrell, Bobby Parnell, and Rondon combined for 5⅓ innings, one run, four hits, four walks, and two strikeouts.
“Overall, a pretty nice job,” said Ausmus, who started Farmer and saw a right-hander who has added two pitches (cutter and slow curve) allow a run on a hit and two walks.
Ferrell, who pitched for the Tigers briefly last season, allowed a hit and a walk in a one-inning cameo. Parnell signed with the Tigers two weeks ago and pitched a scoreless 1⅓ innings that yielded a hit and a walk, as well as a strikeout.
The Pirates scored twice in the ninth against prospect Adam Ravenelle, helped by three walks and an error.
He has had little to show for some very good at-bats this week (RBI single Wednesday) but third baseman Nick Castellanos has hit the ball hard in three games.
“Yeah, and I like what I’ve seen on defense,” said Ausmus, who loves Castellanos’ “concentration” and his focus, right down to the way in which he tagged at second and moved to third Wednesday on a fly-out.
“I like what I see there.”