Lakeland, Fla. – Manager Brad Ausmus made it clear from the start of spring training that right-handed reliever Bruce Rondon would be judged not on past behavior but on how he comported himself in this camp.
“Not just his performance on the field, but in the clubhouse – everything,” Ausmus said Sunday. “It’s been positive overall.”
Sunday was not a good day for the hard-throwing right-hander. He gave up four runs, including long homers to A.J. Reed and Jon Singleton in two thirds of an inning in the Tigers’ 8-3 loss to the Astros.
“He had a rough outing,” Ausmus said. “Every outing is important in terms of evaluation, but I wouldn’t read a ton into it. They just hit the ball, kind of like Toronto the other day.”
Rondon, who was sent home by the club last September for an overall lack of effort, has for the most part handled his business with a far greater degree of professionalism and enthusiasm thus far, even as the results on the field have been inconsistent.
“He’s trying to improve,” Ausmus said. “He’s trying to make adjustments…He’s been a little up and down — he’s had real good days and he’s scuffled some days.”
With injuries to relievers Alex Wilson (lat strain) and Blaine Hardy (shoulder impingement), Rondon has been in the mix to break camp with the Tigers — even if it’s just to hold a spot for a couple of weeks.
How he reacts to being sent down now, or even later if he happens to win a spot in place of Wilson, will go a long way towards revealing his true character. If he takes it in stride and continues to pitch well in Toledo, he will likely earn a ticket back to Detroit.
If he goes down and pouts, it could buy him a ticket out of the organization.
Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez, who has taken Rondon under his tutelage, believes he’s on the right path.
“He’s coming along great,” Rodriguez said. “He’s working hard. The main thing I can say is, he’s learned a lesson and we are trying to put that behind. It’s a new chapter now. I just want to make sure we have him on the right path, keep him strong all year long because he’s going to be a big part of our bullpen.”
Rodriguez is entering his 15th big-league season and he’s been paying-forward some of the vital knowledge that was passed on to him early on by his mentor, former Angels closer Troy Percival.
“That’s how it’s done,” he said.
Make no mistake, Rodriguez hasn’t pulled any punches with Rondon. He hasn’t taken a kid-gloves approach.
“I want to make it clear, he needs somebody to help him,” Rodriguez said. “He needs somebody to be tough on him, as far as pitching and doing things the right way – how to prepare himself for the season, when to mess around, when not.
“He’s a young guy. He just needs a little attention, somebody to guide him. That guy is me. That’s what I want to do.”
Rodriguez knows, though, at some point the 25-year-old Rondon will have to go his way alone. He can only hope his mentoring had an impact.
“Coming from the bullpen as a young guy, it’s hard,” Rodriguez said. “I want to try and pass all my knowledge to them and help them go through it. It’s not an easy thing to do. But, you know, it doesn’t matter what I say. At the end of the day, they got the ball in their hand. They are the ones that have to pitch.
“I just want to help them develop as much as I can.”