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Tigers' Rondon 'working hard,' records first win

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon throws a pitch in the eighth inning against Seattle Tuesday.

Detroit — Bruce Rondon had a big hill to climb to get back to this point.

And the journey back into everybody's good graces is far from complete. But this is a start, it's definitely a start.

"I'm really excited for him," Justin Verlander said following the Tigers' 4-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday at Comerica Park. "He's really working hard.

"With his stuff, there's no reason he can't continue to have success and be a dominant reliever in this game."

Rondon pitched a scoreless eighth inning Tuesday, going through the heart of the Mariners lineup to earn his first victory of the season.

Called into a tie game — manager Brad Ausmus said he would've gone with Shane Greene had the Tigers been leading — Rondon got Seth Smith to fly out before walking Robinson Cano, who was on base four times in this game.

But Rondon bounced right back to get Nelson Cruz to hit into an inning-ending double play, Jose Iglesias to Ian Kinsler to Miguel Cabrera.

Rondon needed just 11 pitches to get through the inning and keep things tied up, before the Tigers went ahead for the first time — and for good — in the bottom half of the inning.

It was the second outing with the Tigers this season for Rondon, who threw two perfect innings, striking out three, in his season debut over the weekend in K.C.

His slider wasn't as sharp this time as last, but his fastball still was humming. And there's definite progress being made, and trust being built.

"You have to earn it, though," Ausmus said. "It doesn't happen in just three innings.

"But unless he struck out nine straight guys, you couldn't really do much better (than he's done)."

Rondon once was considered the Tigers' possible closer of the future, with the triple-digit fastball, the 90-mph change-up and an often-wicked slider.

But he hasn't lived up to the expectations, and he was dealt a harsh dose of reality last September when he was sent home by the Tigers for what they called effort-related issues. In other words, he had some growing up to do.

Rather than sulk, though, he took it the punishment as a challenge and continued to work, on his pitching, and his weight, which is noticeably down.

He struggled early this season at Triple-A Toledo, but eventually started showing flashes of dominance again, and he earned his callup.

What the future holds, nobody's quite sure. But the Tigers sure could use the Rondon they thought would have arrived long before now — especially with Francisco Rodriguez pitching so well in the ninth inning, and Greene looking more and more like a viable setup man.

"He deepens our bullpen," said Verlander, noting he spent a lot of time with Rondon in spring training, talking about everything from pitching to attitude.