Leyland looking for closer qualities in Rondon
JAN 25, 2013 5:14p ET
You remember “Turn the Page” by Ann Arbor’s “Rockin’ Robert” Seger, right?
Rondon, 22, is getting a shot at replacing Jose Valverde, who collapsed in the 2012 playoffs after saving 110 games over three seasons with Detroit.
“I’m going to spend a lot of time with him,” Leyland said of Rondon. “He don’t know that yet. I have to find out if he is he callused enough to do this or to turn the page.”
Turning the page after a blown save was something Valverde, who has 277 career saves and remains unsigned on the free-agent market, did exceedingly well until the very end. He has been a very good but not great closer, saving 89 percent of the games entered in save situations — 93 percent during his three Detroit campaigns.
I never once saw Valverde floored about blowing a save after a game until 2012, and he sailed into the next opportunity as if nothing had happened.
During Thursday's winter caravan at Comerica Park, the converted catcher from Venezuela was asked about rebounding from a blown save.
“You learn from the good and the bad,” Rondon said through interpreter Aileen Villarreal of the team’s public relations staff. “You just turn the page and keep going.”
Translated to Spanish, the goal after failure is to “pasar de pagina.”'
It turns out Valverde is the pitcher Rondon most admirers. Papa Grande mentored Rondon and other Tigers Latin minor leaguers during spring trainings.
“Jose Valverde led by example and with advice,” Rondon said. “He told me always to focus, always have a plan.”
There is a certainty that Rondon displays in conversation. He was comfortable, direct and quick to smile. He seems to have maturity, and that will help.
Rondon’s plan while playing for Navegantes del Magallanes in the Venezuelan Winter League is to improve his quality slider and so-so changeup in order to keep hitters off-balance with a fastball that he said topped out at 104 mph in the minors.
“I’m doing a combination of both practicing things and competing,” Rondon said.
In other words, he wants to win the game but also needs to refine his off-speed stuff.
Rondon is 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA and nine saves in 10 opportunities for Magallanes. He has struck out 19 with just six walks in 16 1/3 innings, showing improved command of the strike zone.
“The crowds are a little bit crazier there,” Rondon said. “That kind of crazy environment helps you to prepare for this job.”
In 2012, Rondon was a combined 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA, 29 saves, 66 strikeouts, 26 walks and 53 innings pitched for Class-A Lakeland (22 games), Double-A Erie (21 games) and Triple-A Toledo (nine games).
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski listened to his scouts, watched with his own eyes, and decided to give Rondon a chance to close this season. Dombrowski said Rondon would have been on the 2012 postseason roster had the Tigers known Valverde would lose his touch.
“That made me very happy,” Rondon said. “I didn’t expect the opportunity, and thank the team and Dave for the opportunity. First and foremost, I want to prepare physically and mentally to get ready for the closer role.”
He is listed at 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, but his size is better-proportioned than Valverde’s girth. Plus, he’s quite an athlete. When I asked what his other interests are, Rondon said, “Basketball is a passion, but I don’t do it anymore because of baseball.”
Rondon looks like a power forward, but said he played guard.
Can he dunk?
“Si,” he said with a smile.
Can he shoot 3-pointers?
“Si,” he said with an even bigger smile.
He is no doubt the player conjuring up the most interest headed into spring training.
“I know he throws gas,” Tigers ace Justin Verlander said. “I want to compare him to ( Joel) Zumaya. I’m one of the few on the club who saw him throwing 103 (mph) when we came up together.”
Leyland is more interested in seeing how Rondon responds “when the stadiums get three tiers and the Yankees show up” in a regular-season game.
“I’ll give him an opportunity,” Leyland said. “Hopefully, he’ll save one, look good, and save a couple more. I’ll have patience, and he’ll have to learn.
“We’ll throw him to the fire. To be the finished product, he is going to have to save some and blow some, and get over it.”
Rondon must learn, in any language, to pasar de pagina.
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