Around baseball: Tigers in search of closer

Friday March 29, 2013 7:03 AM
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Carlos Osorio | Associated Press
Tigers manager Jim Leyland sent closer Bruce Rondon, 22, to triple-A Toledo to work on his pitching.

The Detroit Tigers will start their American League title defense without a set closer after optioning rookie reliever Bruce Rondon to triple-A Toledo yesterday.

“I’ll tell everybody ahead of time, this is going to be tough,” manager Jim Leyland said. “It’ll be a second-guesser’s delight, a second-guesser’s heaven.”

Jose Valverde struggled in the postseason last year and became a free agent, and the Tigers brought the 22-year-old Rondon to camp as his potential replacement.

Detroit’s bullpen includes Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villareal along with left-handers Drew Smyly, Darin Downs and Phil Coke.

“Any one of them can close the game,” Leyland said. “Any one of them might get the ball to get the third out in the ninth. That’s pretty much the way you have to do it when you’re in this situation, which is fine. Look for anything because that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Rondon went 2-1 with a 5.84 ERA in 13 spring training games with nine walks and 19 strikeouts in 121/3 innings.

His velocity was clocked at as high as 101 mph, and he tried to mix in more breaking pitches later in spring training.

“A lot of times in the minor leagues, when you throw that hard, you don’t need those other pitches to get outs,” catcher Alex Avila said. “It’s just a learning curve, being able to learn when to use your other pitches, learning how to pitch rather than throw. But he’s as close as you can get without being ready to make an impact.”

Valverde saved 110 games for the Tigers over the past three seasons and led the AL with 49 in 2011.

Rondon, a Venezuelan who signed as a 16-year-old, has pitched only eight innings at triple-A.

“My wish is for him to master his two-seamer, his four-seamer and his slider,” Leyland said. “I don’t think he needs to master the change-up; I think that’s too much for a kid. Right now, for development purposes, just put the change-up on the back burner and get the command of the fastball and the breaking ball.”

Leyland stressed that Rondon could join the big-league roster at some point.

“The kid did not do one thing wrong,” Leyland said. “What we evaluated was that he wasn’t quite ready to do it today or April 1 here.”

Award will honor late Indians great Feller

Late Hall of Fame and former Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller is being honored by Major League Baseball with an annual award named for him.

The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award will be given each year to a major-leaguer and Hall of Famer who displays good character, assists those less fortunate, supports U.S. servicemen and women and conducts himself with dignity on and off the field. The U.S. Navy will give a companion award to one service member.

Feller served in the Navy, interrupting his baseball career to enlist immediately after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Feller did so despite being eligible for an exemption.

A celebrated figure in Cleveland, Feller died in 2010 at the age of 92.

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