San Diego — You can’t blame Bruce Rondon for wanting to change the narrative.
There he was on Saturday, once again encircled by reporters asking questions about whether this is his last opportunity with the Tigers.
“At first I was worried about whether I would be back up here,” Rondon said through Tigers translator Bryan Almonte. “I just focused on working hard and doing whatever I can could to get back. All I could control was to work hard.”
Rondon is no longer the Tigers’ closer of the future. General manager Al Avila made that clear on Friday.
“No, not at this time; I can’t say that,” Avila said. “We’ve been up that road too many times. At this time, we’re going to evaluate him just like everybody else. Every day he goes out there he’ll be evaluated. And we’ll move forward and see what happens with him at that point.”
The Tigers, though, are desperate for another reliable arm to work late in games. Set-up men Alex Wilson and Shane Greene are on a pace to work in 80 games this season. Rondon, probably working on third and final strike with the organization, has a chance to be that guy.
“We have to see what we’ve got,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I’m not going to lock him into anything until we find out.”
Rondon was the Tigers’ so-called closer of the future going back as far as 2013. Tommy John surgery interrupted his ascension, as did some personal issues. Rondon was sent home for what Avila called a lack of effort in 2015.
Injuries derailed the first half of his season last year, but in August and September, he locked into the set-up role and was as reliable as he’s been in his career. He was 2-1, with a 2.70 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 26.2 innings in the second half of the season.
Just when the Tigers thought he was over the hump, though, Rondon showed up to spring training weighting in excess of 300 pounds. He was sent down to Toledo in April with the mandate to get back into playing condition, which, to his credit, he’s done.
By all accounts, he’s pitched well over the last two weeks.
“I’m the same guy,” Rondon said. “I am pretty much doing the same thing. All I did down there was work hard on getting in shape.”
He has lowered his velocity (94-96 mph) in favor of better control. He is also working his slider and change-up in more frequently.
“I wasn’t expecting (to get sent down), especially being so early in the season,” he said. “It was pretty quick. But once it happened, I knew I had to work hard to get back.”
Rondon has a chance, maybe one last chance, to write himself a happy story in Detroit.
“It’s really been a long battle,” Avila said. “Last year he went through the same thing. We brought him up later in the year and he had a great two-month run.”
The Tigers hope history repeats.
“He had to get his command, his control back,” Avila said. “He had to lose weight. We had to get him working on holding runners better, being quicker to the plate. He’s done all that. So, right now our guys felt he was ready to contribute here.”