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Potential Tigers closer Rondon working out mechanics

The SportsXchange

For a team with few problems, the Detroit Tigers could find themselves with a big one unless Bruce Rondon rights himself and takes control of the closer's role on the team.

Rondon took a minor step in the right direction Friday with a score-free but two-hit eighth inning against the New York Mets after getting scrubbed from his scheduled appearance to iron out mechanical (and maybe mental) problems that led to a 7.36 ERA for his first four outings. He threw 15 pitches, 10 for strikes and was around the plate.

Manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski have danced around the issue all offseason like they were auditioning for an appearance on "Dancing With The Stars" and partnering up with Cheryl Burke and Kym Johnson.

They rightly don't want to put extra pressure on the 300-pound Rondon by anointing him as the closer, a tough task for a kid who has yet to appear in the majors.

But at the same time they cleared the spot for him by allowing incumbent Jose Valverde to leave as a free agent following his disastrous 2012 postseason (which followed deteriorating regular season results).

"I think the best way to put it is: I think this kid is potentially a fantastic closing prospect," said Leyland, who has been careful to point out he has never handed Rondon the job. "Is he ready for that? I can't answer that.

"I don't want to shed any negative light on the Rondon situation, because there is none to be shed. I think this kid has all the equipment. The question is going to become, I think, at some point: Is he ready? Plain and simple. And if he's not ready, the Detroit Tigers will absolutely be fine. I have total confidence in the guys we've got."

What Leyland points out is that Rondon has been getting his fastball, which has more velocity than movement, up in the zone where it can be hit and has not been using his slider and changeup as much as necessary to make the fastball more effective.

But if Rondon doesn't win the job, Leyland will have to mix and match until either the rookie is ready or until the club can acquire a replacement if that is deemed necessary.

"I think we'll figure something out," Leyland said. "You have to learn to roll with the punches and not get too excited as the manager. I've got seven or eight guys with closer stuff."

Youngsters Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal have the stuff to close but both have had durability issues over the last season.

Veterans Octavio Dotel and Joaquin Benoit have closed in the past but both had problems doing the job last year when Valverde was not available.

Southpaw Phil Coke stepped up in the postseason and was excellent closing games but the Tigers would prefer he troll the late innings so he can get a single hitter out or wade through a lineup heavy with left-handed hitters.

"Before spring training, I said we'd be asked about our closer every single day," Dombrowski said. "This is not anything that we didn't anticipate. It's different if a kid doesn't have the stuff. But I've been with some really good young players where you think they're ready. You send them down for 20 days or so and they come back great. We'll be all right."
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