Heading into spring training, the heavy favorite to close for the Detroit Tigers in 2013 was rookie Bruce Rondon.
Fans and media alike were speculating if Rondon could handle the pressure of closing for a World Series contender. When Rondon began spring training by throwing five walks in 3.2 innings and sporting a 7.36 earned run average in four appearances, several people wrote off Rondon as a candidate for closer.
On March 4, rumors began spreading that the Tigers were actively looking for a veteran closer with experience. This happened when the Tigers announced that Rondon would work on his mechanics and skip his next appearance to throw a side session in the bullpen.
With hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon already showing he can't handle the job, and with no other good options available in their own camp, the Tigers are already pushing hard to find a closer on the trade market, according to major-league sources.
Most people seem to have ignored the fact that the Tigers publicly said Rondon still has a chance to win the closer job. Tigers manager Jim Leyland told Chris Iott at MLive.com:
Is he certainly a good candidate? Absolutely. Just because he's had a little bit of a rough time, that doesn't mean he's no longer a candidate, because he is. … He's a very good candidate and he's still a very good candidate. He's struggled. To put it simple, he's throwing it pretty hard and they're hitting it pretty hard.
Still, after all the rumors, it is hard to believe that Rondon was seriously being considered as a closer candidate at the time of Leyland's comment.
On March 8, Rondon made his first appearance after his side session and had a great performance. Rondon didn't allow a walk and struck out two batters in one inning of work. He also located his fastball by throwing 10 out of 15 pitches for strikes.
Afterward, Leyland praised Rondon's performance to Tony Paul of the Detroit News:
"He was around the plate a little bit more," manager Jim Leyland said after the Tigers' 3-2 exhibition victory. "There were a couple pitches that had excellent movement. He didn't do anything wrong today."
While Rondon's most recent performance doesn't guarantee that he'll be successful during the next outing or win the closer role, it's a step in the right direction.
The March 8 outing should help the Tigers' front office out by allowing them to sit back and examine their options.
A few days ago it appeared that the Tigers were close to panicking and overpaying for an average closer, who might not even be successful. Rondon helped to calm everyone's nerves for a day and in the process, might have put himself back in the mix to close.
*All statistics are as of March 8
**All statistics are from baseball-reference.com