Tigers continue to evaluate Rondon, closer options
Dombrowski says process remains the same and nothing's been decided yet
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Sometime Friday afternoon, Bruce Rondon will take the mound at Joker Marchant Stadium for an inning of relief to try to carry the mechanical adjustments he made in his Wednesday side session into a game against Mets hitters. Among those watching will be pitching coach Jeff Jones, who made the adjustments after watching video, manager Jim Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski.
They'll still be evaluating, Dombrowski pointed out. Amid all the trade rumors, scouting reports and panicked reactions, that process rolls on.
The process, Dombrowski suggested, stays the same.
"What we've said has not changed for three months, that Rondon is in a position where we feel he has a chance to be a very good closer," Dombrowski said Thursday afternoon before the Tigers took on the Braves. "He has dominant-type stuff. He's very close to being a closer. We'll see if he's ready to do it or not. We're still analyzing that situation."
That was the main theme Dombrowski sounded, that nothing has been decided yet. He also emphasized that it's still early in camp. In Rondon's case, it's four outings in.
Statistically, Dombrowski said, the struggles Rondon has had this spring aren't entirely different from the numbers some established relievers have posted. Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon has given up eight runs over 1 2/3 innings. Joel Hanrahan's four-run outing against the Twins pushed his spring totals for the Red Sox to nine runs -- six earned -- on nine hits over three innings.
"But they're proven guys," Dombrowski said. "That's just part of the thing that happens. And all along, we've said we're just going to see what happens. We never anointed Rondon as our closer. We said we feel he has a good opportunity to do so. But under normal situations [without a longer camp due to the World Baseball Classic], we would just be finishing our first week of Spring Training."
All along, however, these were never going to be normal situations. A closing candidate without Major League experience competing to make a team with championship aspirations was going to be a focus of attention. Dombrowski understood that, even contending that he predicted that going in.
"Let's say he was pitching very well so far," Dombrowski said. "People would still be writing, 'Is he going to be able to do it when the season starts?' It's the focus of attention. He hasn't had a good start to the spring, but the spring has just started."
If Rondon had dominated out of the gate this spring, though, that attention would not include a twinge of panic. It is an unusual theme for a front office that is known more often for being deliberate, for choosing patience over impulse.
Dombrowski said he was unfazed by that part.
"It doesn't surprise me," Dombrowski said. "I don't think it's accurate, but it doesn't surprise me."
At this point, Dombrowski does not sound like someone on the verge of an impulsive move. The Tigers are still watching Rondon, along with their other relievers, looking to see if anyone emerges for the closer's job or if going with a bullpen by committee is the best way to go.
Manager Jim Leyland has made it clear he'd prefer a set closer to allow him to set his other roles and take away the regular questions, but that he's open to a closer committee. Dombrowski sounded much the same tone, but also noted that a committee at the start of the season does not necessarily continue that way.
"My own thing is you prefer to have a set closer, but we're also open to bullpen by committee," Dombrowski said. "And sometimes you start with a bullpen by committee and somebody takes the job and runs with it."
That could be a caveat if Dombrowski or Leyland decide that Rondon isn't ready, but isn't that far off. It could also have an impact on what the Tigers do outside their own camp.
At the same time that Rondon and others compete, the Tigers will be sending their Major League scouts across Florida and Arizona to make their organizational reports on teams, four or five clubs apiece. It's the same process they do every Spring Training, and they'll try to get a pulse of every team's makeup.
They won't gather in Lakeland for any big meetings, but they'll send their reports covering everything, including a team's bullpen.
"Now, do they pay special attention to certain guys if they're pitching? Yes," Dombrowski said. "But that's the same thing that happens every spring, because that's what they do."
Dombrowski will be watching those reports, too. He'll also be watching his phone. But he won't be talking about those conversations. That part, maybe more than anything else, was expected.
"My job is to be thorough on everything that we do," he said. "I would never tell you any type of discussions that we are or are not having. And I don't mean that we are or are not. Because if I tell you one way or the other, it's very big news, and it becomes a distraction."