By: Kurt Snyder
Just when the task to rebuild this Tiger pitching staff already seemed daunting enough for 2016, we now introduce another unknown. Bruce Rondon, if you missed it, was shut down and sent home for the rest of the season due to “lack of effort.”
Oh yeah, really. Why not? We have seen every possible disappointment associated with the Tigers this season, why not another? But this one is especially disappointing as Rondon, without a whole lot of pressure, had been given a real opportunity to give us a taste of the future. Well, be careful what you wish for.
For over 3 years now, Bruce has been considered the closer-in-waiting for Detroit. Unfortunately for him and the team, he had to take a major step back when he went under the TJS knife last year. Incredibly, but not advisable, Rondon was throwing triple digits again in spring training, just a year removed from his surgery.
Rondon has been a polarizing figure on this team. He has shown signs of brilliance, followed by loss of command, followed by more dominance. First you love him and get excited about his future, then you find yourself shaking your head wondering why he can’t consistently dominate with the tools he possesses.
Inconsistency has been his enemy and the biggest road block preventing anyone from really considering him ready to take the reins in the ninth.
But you have to work for it, too. And apparently the Tigers have seen signs of quit in Bruce Rondon. But as much as a lot of fans in Detroit are quick to overreact and suggest we get rid of him, that’s probably the worst thing we could do. We cannot discount the ability that he has, and you have to do everything you can to get him right.
My dad always used to say this about pitchers, “Never give up on a good arm.” Well, that’s what Rondon has, not a good arm, but a great arm. And while this episode would seem to lessen the value of Rondon, I am sure a lot of teams would gladly get in line to take on the challenge or opportunity to get Bruce’s head on straight.
Why? Because you “never give up on a good arm.” It seems you can never have enough guys who can throw hard. And in today’s game, every bullpen has at least a few pitchers who can throw 95 mph fastballs. But there are only a handful who can throw triple digits.
This is why the Tigers can’t overreact to what has happened with Rondon. He’s got a valuable arm, but it’s what’s in his gut and between his ears that leave everyone concerned. These are factors that, if not corrected, will certainly determine whether he will ever be able to be counted on to take on an important bullpen role.
Drive and intestinal fortitude are traits ingrained in a pitcher entrusted with the ninth inning. And if Bruce doesn’t have it, he had better find it. But even so, I would be very careful about letting him go prematurely.
Dave Dombrowski, in his 14 years as GM for the Tigers, loved pitchers who could throw hard. And he drafted big, strong pitchers with big arms.
In the trade for Doug Fister, if anyone remembers that gem, Dombrowski insisted that the deal include Washington’s Robbie Ray and according to Dave, he was someone the Nationals didn’t want to part with. He was one of their most prized minor league pitching prospects.
But the Tigers sure didn’t give him much time. Heck, they barely put his name on his locker before he was given up on and traded away. And now he is showing signs of being a pretty good major league pitcher, with a bright future. Why the team gave up on him so quickly may have been more about Ilitch’s persistent pressure on the Tigers to win, giving them no time or ability to develop a pitcher they gave up so much to acquire.
Well, they can’t make the same mistake with Bruce Rondon. It’s just unfortunate that Al Avila’s task to rebuild his rotation and bullpen just got even more complicated.