By: Kurt Snyder
In the spring of 2013, Bruce Rondon emerged as a young reliever who reminded all of us of the last fire baller we grew so enamored with beginning in 2006, Joel Zumaya.
Like Zumaya, Rondon could throw a 100 mph fastball and he was thought to be a contender for the Tiger’s vacant closer’s role. It was hard to believe that a rookie would be given so much consideration for such an important role on the team. Coincidentally, we said that about the Brad Ausmus hiring last season.
The Tigers, very much expecting to be contenders again, still had cracks in the foundation with the ability to become debilitating sink holes if not filled appropriately. And as they left Lakeland, it was announced that the closer’s role was going to be filled (and I hate these words) ‘by committee.”
They had found that Rondon was way too raw to start cutting his teeth on major league hitters and he did not come north with the team. And almost like a bad penny, Jose Valverde showed up again for another shot at redemption, even after he had done so much damage to all of our hearts in the 2012 playoffs. But Papa Grande could not reclaim any of his magic from his 49 save season of 2011 or find his sinker that left him in 2012.
Bruce Rondon fought all year to become part of the Tiger bullpen. But in September of that year, he started to come around. It was becoming apparent that this guy was going to be a key piece in the playoffs. But as luck would have it, he strained his forearm and was out and unavailable to pitch in the playoffs.
I remember the comments on forums around the city. I remember how the significance of his loss was downplayed by many, as he had not had success for very long and certainly, according to some, not enough to warrant a key spot in the pen come playoff time. I disagreed. I saw how he began to dominate.
We know the rest of the story as the David Ortiz grand slam in the ALCS will rank near the top of heartbreaking Detroit sports moments with the likes of “…and there’s a steal by Bird! ” (I still have occasional dry heaves from both of those nightmarish evenings in yes, Boston!)
This season, Rondon, only a year removed from Tommy John surgery, is being talked about again as a potential key piece in the Tigers’ pen. Knowing what we have learned about TJS, it seems early to be even speaking his name, regardless of how good he looks.
I would love to think that come Opening Day, Bruce Rondon would be ready to come north with the Tigers. Just the fact that he is in the conversation gives us hope. But Ausmus must resist the temptation. Because, if Rondon is recovering as quickly as the Lakeland Propaganda Machine suggests, I would protect him as if he were one of my children.
Let him continue to pitch in Lakeland. Because I remember those days in 2013 when Bruce Rondon was starting to get it. And I was excited about his potential role in the playoffs and the dominance he was beginning to show.
So Brad, don’t overreact. Let’s give him the opportunity to continue to progress in the minor leagues. And if luck somehow finds this team, Rondon may start kicking down the door in mid-summer.
I dream (and yes I do dream about the Tigers; it’s a family thing) of another pennant race where a hard throwing young reliever gives you no choice but to use him in situations where you need to close out an inning with a big strike out. Don’t we all agree the Tigers are due for some luck? We are due for luck at shortstop (enough with the shin already) and we are due for some in the bullpen.
And Bruce Rondon’s name on a 2015 Detroit Tiger playoff roster would be just what the doctor ordered and would say a lot about how things are going.