Bruce Rondon’s 2015 season is over, but the hard-throwing reliever isn’t injured and hasn’t hit an innings cap. Rather, the Tigers told reporters, including MLive.com’s Chris Iott, that Rondon has been sent home due to his “effort level.” Said manager Brad Ausmus:
“Bruce Rondon, because of his effort level, has been sent home. Other than saying that [general manager] Al Avila and myself completely agreed on it, there will be no other details or comment.”
As Iott notes, the Tigers apparently feel that while embarrassing in nature, a move of this magnitude is the best way to send a message to Rondon, who struggled in 2015 as he returned from Tommy John surgery, though some teammates feel his struggles are attributable to a lack of work. One anonymous Triple-A teammate told Iott that Rondon’s work ethic “definitely has room for improvement.” Tigers bullpen-mate Alex Wilson offered a more harsh, on-record take when speaking to the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky:
“It’s kind of an unwritten rule, you never quit on your teammates, and when you quit on yourself, you kind of quit on your teammates. From a clubhouse standpoint, it’s probably better to let him go on home and try to figure things out a little bit. Hopefully, he comes back next year with a new mindset and attitude.”
Certainly, this isn’t the manner in which Rondon wanted his season to end. Armed with a triple-digit fastball, the now-24-year-old was tabbed as the heir-apparent to the ninth inning in 2013. He struggled early in his first three appearances but came back strong after a late-June promotion, pitching to a 2.73 ERA with a 29-to-9 K/BB ratio in 26 1/3 innings while setting up for Joaquin Benoit. Rondon, though, suffered a torn UCL in his right elbow the following spring and missed all of the 2014 season.
His return in 2015 was slowed by a case of biceps tendinitis which Iott says took an “inordinate” amount of time to heal. Rondon didn’t throw a pitch at the Triple-A level until May 21, and he struggled both there and in the Majors this season, posting a 7.11 ERA in 12 2/3 Triple-A innings and a 5.81 mark in 31 innings at the big league level. McCosky notes that Rondon’s fastball was sitting in the 93 to 96 mph range in his final few outings this season, but the righty told Ausmus and Avila that he felt fine and had merely cut back on his velocity in an effort to improve his control. The manager and pitching coach Jeff Jones advised against that, per McCosky, but Rondon again sat at 93 mph in his next appearance. McCosky describes Rondon’s late-season demeanor as “uncharacteristically surly,” noting that he refused to speak to the media.
Rondon clearly has plenty of upside; he posted an ERA well below 2.00 across three levels and averaged 11+ strikeouts per nine innings in the minors from 2012-13. Both Baseball America and MLB.com rated him as a Top 100 prospect entering the 2013 campaign. But Rondon has yet to deliver on that promise, and while a serious injury is unequivocally a factor in his lack of development, team decision-makers and teammates clearly feel there’s more at play. While neither Iott or McCosky mentions the possibility that the organization will move on from Rondon this winter, this type of public airing of grievances could conceivably create a rift between team and player.
Rondon will have two-plus years of service time under his belt this offseason but will fall well shy of Super Two distinction. He won’t be arbitration eligible until at least the 2016-17 offseason and is under team control through at least 2019 at this point.