Will Tiger fans ever get to know Bruce Rondon?

Bruce Rondon last pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 2013.

Bruce Rondon last pitched for the Detroit Tigers in 2013.

Bruce Rondon has faced only 133 batters in the major leagues and he hasn’t been on the mound for Detroit in two years. But it still seems like he’s always in the news. Unfortunately not for the right things.

The big righthanded reliever will be recalled to the big leagues by the Detroit Tigers before tonight’s game against the Chicago White Sox. Rondon missed all of 2014 when he underwent Tommy John Surgery and he’s been shelved much of this season due to tendonitis. After 13 games in Toledo, the 6’3, 275-pounder is pain free and ready to join his teammates on the Tigers.

Ever since he was 20 years old and in his fourth year as a professional ballplayer, Rondon has been a highly-touted closer prospect for the Tigers. Detroit fans have been expecting him to be the next great savior out of the Tiger bullpen since Rondon racked up 48 saves in 2011-12 at Single-A and Double-A. But his path was blocked by Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit in the Detroit bullpen. He got into 30 games in 2013, mostly as a setup man or a mopup man, and on August 30th he got his first (and to this point, only) career save.

Brad Ausmus has never had him on his team. 1/3 of his  teammates have never suited up with Rondon for a big league game. And despite his hype and 98+mph fastball,Detroit fans hardly know him.

Will Rondon ever show what he can do at the big league level? The Venezuelan native has now had two surgeries on his shoulder and suffered no fewer than five injuries to the wing. It’s amazing he can still wind up and toss the ball 60 feet, six inches, let alone throw it as hard as he does. Doctors have taken parts from here and there and plopped them into his shoulder. He’s used anti-inflammatory this and anti-inflammatory that. Yet here he is, back again.

The Detroit bullpen is tenuous, like a coiled spring you can sense that it could snap at any time. Joakim Soria has 16 saves and seems to have his nasty slider under control, but he’s struggled a bit in recent weeks. Is he really back or will he implode like he did after coming over from the Rangers last season?

The Tigers have one lefty pitching well (Blaine Hardy) and one who stinks (Tom Gorzelanny). There’s the guy we think should be better than he is pitching (Al Alburquerque) and the guy we know will pitch much worse (Joba Chamberlain). The rest of the pen is a mixture of unusable and uncertainty. We don’t know where the Tigers will end up this season, but we can be sure of one thing: the bullpen will be critical to their success or failure…like it always is.

Rondon is 24 years old, a year younger than starting shortstop Jose Iglesias. He could still have an impact at this level. But he’s going to have to start soon, otherwise he’ll just be a “coulda-been” who “never was.”

If Rondon is going to be the closer of the future, the Tigers might want that future to start pretty soon.

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