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Bruce Rondón

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Bruce Rondon

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Bruce Rondon made his big league debut in 2013.

Rondon signed with the Detroit Tigers at age 17; the scouts were German Robles, Pedro Chavez and Miguel Garcia. He was 2-6 with a 3.58 ERA and .225 opponent average in his pro debut for the 2008 VSL Tigers. He tied for 6th in the Venezuelan Summer League in losses. In 2009, he struggled with the VSL Tigers (6 R, 7 BB in 4 IP) and GCL Tigers (0-1, 4.76, 8 BB in 11 1/3 IP). He allowed one run and two walks in one inning that summer for the Bravos de Margarita. Rondon excelled in 2010 with the GCL Tigers (11 H, 26 K, 2 R in 25 2/3 IP for a 0.70 ERA, 15 Sv) and Lakeland Flying Tigers (1 R, 2 H, 7 K in 6 2/3 IP, 2 Sv). He allowed a .133 average, best of any Gulf Coast League reliever. He also led the GCL in saves, 5 more than runner-up Justin Erasmus. He was named the GCL's All-Star relief pitcher. Baseball America listed him as the 15th-best GCL prospect, between K.C. Hobson and Keury de la Cruz. Rondon was 0-1 with two saves and a 4.26 ERA for the 2010-2011 Navegantes del Magallanes, with 10 walks in 12 2/3 IP; Jean Machi was the club's principal closer.

Bruce kept it up in 2011 with the West Michigan Whitecaps, going 2-2 with 19 saves, a 2.03 ERA, .164 opponent average and 61 whiffs in 40 innings. One problem was his walk rate as he issued 34 free passes and also uncorked 11 wild pitches. He tied Greg Holle for third in the Midwest League in saves, only 3 shy of leader Drew Hayes (who was named the MWL All-Star relief pitcher). Baseball America listed him as Detroit's 12th-best prospect and as having the best fastball in the Tigers chain. With Magallanes that winter, he was 0-1 with a save and a 3.00 ERA but walked 7 in 6 innings as Machi remained the main closer.

Rondon opened 2012 with Lakeland and fared very well (1-0, 15 Sv, 1.93, .152 average allowed, 34 K in 23 1/3 IP). He was promoted to the Erie SeaWolves and allowed no earned runs in his first 12 1/3 innings there (6 H, 5 BB, 13 K) while saving 9 more games. He was the final pitcher for the World in their 17-5 loss to the US in the 2012 Futures Game. He entered in the bottom of the 8th with one out, replacing Kyle Lotzkar on the hill. He retired Manny Machado on a fly and Scooter Gennett on a grounder, hitting 101-102 mph on all four of his pitches. He finished the season in AAA with the Toledo Mud Hens, and a combined record of 2-1, 1.53 in 52 games between the three levels. He pitched 53 innings, allowing 32 hits and 26 walks, but striking out 66 and registering 29 saves. In winter ball, he was 4-1 with 9 saves and a 4.50 ERA. He tied Luis Ramirez for third in the Venezuelan League in saves.

Heading into spring training with the Tigers in 2013, Rondon was slated for a big role with the defending American League champions, even though he had yet to make his major league debut. General Manager Dave Dombrowski said that he had the inside track to claim the team's closer role, after incumbent Jose Valverde was let go following late-season struggles, and given Detroit's failure to sign an experienced closer in the off-season to replace him. However, Rondon's performance in spring training showed that he was not quite ready to pitch in the majors yet, and he was sent back to AAA after putting up a 5.84 ERA and giving up 17 hits and 9 walks in 12 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League. He did a lot better in AAA, not giving up any runs over 7 2/3 innings while picking up 3 saves in 7 games for Toledo. Ironically, he was called up on April 24th, one day after the Tigers had brought back Valverde, the man he had been supposed to replace, from his off-season exile and re-instated him as their closer. In Bruce's debut on April 25th, he came into the game in relief of Justin Verlander in the 8th inning with the Tigers holding a 3-2 lead over the Kansas City Royals, but he gave up the tying run in a blown save. He allowed a single to Billy Butler; pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson stole second, advanced on an Eric Hosmer grounder and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lorenzo Cain. Mike Moustakas doubled and stole third, but Rondon retired Jeff Francoeur to escape further harm. After a leadoff single by Salvador Perez in the 9th, he was replaced by Phil Coke. The contest was then decided in extra innings, when Kansas City put up a five-spot against Coke in the top of the 10th to win, 8-3. His first stay in the big leagues was brief, as the Tigers sent him back down to AAA on May 1st, explaining that he was not quite ready. He had an 11.57 ERA in three outings, and while he showed excellent velocity, regularly hitting 100 mph on the radar gun, he did not have any secondary pitches, allowing hitters to sit on his fastball and hit it in spite of its great speed. He was called back to Detroit on June 28th, a week after Valverde had been assigned to the minors. Overall, he pitched 30 times for the Bengals, with a record of 1-2, 3.45 and 1 save. In 28 2/3 innings, he struck out 30 batters and walked only 11. He did not pitch in the postseason however.

Any hope Rondon had of becoming the Tigers' closer in 2014 were quickly dashed when he suffered an elbow injury during spring training and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. he did not return until the second half of 2015, when he went 1-0, 5.81 with 5 saves in 35 games. In 2016, he was not given an opportunity to save any games, as veteran Francisco Rodriguez did well in the role for a middling team. Bruce pitched 37 times, going 5-2, 2.97 with 45 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings. This gave the Tigers hope that he was back to where he had been before the surgery. In 2017, however, he struggled, failing to take advantage of the opportunity that opened up when Rodriguez lost the closer's job as he was sent down to the minors after three appearances in April with an ERA of 40.50 and was criticized for being out of shape. He was back two and a half months later, but hardly did any better. In mid-August, after 21 games, his ERA was a bloated 10.91 in spite of 22 Ks in 15 2/3 innings. He was just allowing too many runners, with 21 hits and 10 walks at that point. On August 14th, he was sent down to AAA Toledo again.


Further Reading[edit]

  • Anthony Fenech: "Has Bruce Rondon thrown his last pitch for the Detroit Tigers?", The Detroit Free Press, August 14, 2017. [1]

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