Rondon slimmer, sharper in return to Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Bruce Rondon

Kansas City, Mo. — The first thing you notice is there is less of him. The second thing you notice was the smile. It barely left his face as he made the rounds greeting his teammates Sunday morning.

Bruce Rondon is back in the big leagues. He and left-hander Kyle Ryan were called up from Toledo to replace Blaine Hardy and Matt Boyd, who were sent down Saturday night.

“I'd like to thank the team for giving me the opportunity to come back to the major leagues,” Rondon said through Tigers interpreter Aileen Villarreal. “I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity. I want to stay here.”

Since June 3, Rondon has pitched extremely well at Toledo. He’s not allowed a run over the last seven outings, spanning 6 1/3 innings. He’d given up four hits with 10 strikeouts and four walks, earning four saves.

“For the last six to eight outings I've pitched well,” he said. “I made some adjustments and I've pitched pretty well since then. Physically, I've lost 15 pounds. I am feeling good.”

The weight loss is immediately noticeable. So is the mechanical adjustment. He has sped up his delivery and has gotten rid of his exaggerated hip turn. He no longer turns his back to the hitter. He comes straight to the plate now.

He looked like a different pitcher Sunday. He worked two impressive innings — the 11th and 12th — in the Tigers' 2-1, 13-inning loss to the Kansas City Royals. He retired all six batters he faced, with three strikeouts.

The velocity was still there — 97 to 100 mph. But the command was so much better, and the slider was biting.

“With the mechanical adjustment, all the pitches feel the same,” Rondon said. “They all feel like a fastball (coming out of his hand). I feel more controlled with the pitches, more consistent. That’s been the reason for the success I’ve been having.”

Rondon rarely pitches more than an inning. But circumstances mandated it Sunday, and Rondon was eager for the challenge.

“It’s not something normal,” he said. “But with the adrenaline going, I want to help the team. I was happy to get back out there.”

The reports from Toledo were that Rondon’s attitude and work ethic had improved. This was Exhibit A.

“He was real positive about going out for the second inning,” Ausmus said. “He did his job. If he continues to pitch like that, he could pitch in the back third of the game. That would be huge if he can pitch anything like that. It could be enormous.”

It didn’t go quite as well for Ryan Sunday.

He gave up the winning run in the 13th, though he was victimized by a rare error by Miguel Cabrera.

Salvador Perez singled to lead off the inning. Speedy Lorenzo Cain pinch-ran for him. Cabrera whiffed on a well-thrown pickoff attempt, sending Cain to second. After a sacrifice and intentional walk to load the bases, Cheslor Cuthbert hit a walk-off single through a drawn-in infield.

“We were running out options,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “There were a couple guys we wanted to stay away from and a couple of their hitters coming up had been struggling against left-handed pitchers. We took our shot with Kyle.”

Ryan didn’t face a left-handed batter in the inning, but his inability to get lefties out was why Ryan was sent to Toledo. While in Toledo he faced seven lefties and got them all out.

Ryan, though, doesn’t want to talk about what he’s figured out.

“I'm not going to say it. I'm superstitious,” he said. “I went down there and did what I needed to do. I got comfortable again throwing all my pitches. We'll see how it goes. I'm confident with it.”

Ryan made the 25-man roster out of spring training and other than his issues with lefties — they were hitting .364 against him — he pitched well. So it was a bit of a surprise when he was demoted.

Not to him, though.

“I actually believe it was a bigger jolt for everyone else,” he said. “I understood where they were coming from right away. They didn't even have to tell me. I wasn't getting left-handers out and that was my job at the time. I wasn't doing my job.”

Ryan certainly is no stranger to the Detroit-Toledo shuttle. But this time, he said, it felt different.

“Knowing they had the trust to bring me up at the start of the year and put me into the situations I was put in, it's to the point where you know they want you up here,” he said. “It's up to me to get my job done in order to stay here.”

The next step

Another starting pitcher will have to be added before Thursday, which would have been Boyd’s next start. The options appear to be either recalling left-hander Daniel Norris, or moving Anibal Sanchez back to the rotation. “We haven’t discussed it,” Ausmus said. “Right now we have four starters until Thursday. We’ll have an answer for you before then.”

Twitter @cmccosky