Rondon's heat reminds Tigers why they kept him

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon kept Boston Red Sox batters at bay in the seventh inning.

Boston — Calls for the Tigers to simply release Bruce Rondon were always understood.

Even a Tigers front office that never seriously considered abandoning a right-handed pitcher with potential and fury realized patience was not easily marshaled, even by a right-handed reliever’s bosses.

But the Tigers might, at last, be getting in Rondon an indispensable bullpen resource.

He showed just how overwhelming can be his fastball-slider combination in a 1-2-3 rub-out of the Red Sox in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 9-8 toppling of the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“He’s got closer stuff,” said Tigers general manager Al Avila, who is in Boston this week with his entire front office as they prepare for the inter-league trade deadline and closing-months battle plans. “People have to understand that this doesn’t happen overnight. Some things are gonna hurt.”

Hurt? Rondon has specialized in pain since he showed signs late in the 2013 season that he might be a devastating bullpen weapon.

After vaporizing the Red Sox and David Ortiz in a Labor Day game at Fenway Park that division-winning season three years ago, Rondon strained his forearm and missed the playoffs, which could well have turned Detroit’s way had Rondon been around for an ALCS series Boston grabbed.

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The following spring he had Tommy John surgery. Eighteen months later his recovery had been so incomplete, physically and psychologically, he was shipped home to Venezuela to ponder his Tigers future.

He has been up, he has been down, in 2016. But his fearsome stream of 100 and 101-mph fastballs in Tuesday’s shutdown, coupled with a slider that ran 89-90 and hammer-locked hitters, reminded everyone of how critical a 25-year-old flame-thrower could yet be.

“You just can’t discard that kind of pitcher,” said Avila, whose back-end bullpen cast could get an immense lift if Rondon, at last, has figured out how powerful is his repertoire and how close to commanding it he might now be.