The Tigers will be without setup man Bruce Rondon for the 2014 season, as Tom Gage of the Detroit News reports (via Twitter) that the flamethrowing right-hander will undergo Tommy John surgery. It's a major blow to a bullpen that already contained plenty of question marks, but general manager Dave Dombrowski tells reporters that he'll look to fill the void with internal candidates (per the Detroit Free Press on Twitter).
The news increases Joba Chamberlain's importance to the Tigers and likely that of right-hander Al Alburquerque as well. This is the third major injury to a member of the Tigers' projected 25-man roster already this spring, as Andy Dirks will be sidelined up to three months after back surgery, and stress fractures in each of Jose Iglesias' shins will likely cause him to miss the entire 2014 season.
Rondon, 23, posted a 3.45 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 46.8 percent ground-ball rate in 28 2/3 innings out of Detroit's bullpen last year, and he had fired seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and no walks thus far in Spring Training. Rondon's innings can be replaced, but it will be virtually impossible to replace his velocity; his 99.3 mph average fastball was the highest among all big league pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched — even Aroldis Chapman (98.3 mph).
While Iglesias' injury led many to speculate on a Stephen Drew signing for the Tigers, the free agent market for relievers is more bleak. Ryan Madson and Joel Hanrahan represent a pair of potential impact arms, but each is coming off major surgery, and Madson hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2011. Dombrowski continues to repeat the "internal options" refrain, but at some point one has to wonder if the growing number of injuries will cause him to make a somewhat notable move to regain some of the lost production.