Rondon needs Tommy John surgery, will miss '14
Right-handed reliever the latest on Tigers to go down with injury this spring
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The bad injury news kept flowing for the Tigers on Friday, as the club announced that relief pitcher Bruce Rondon, slated to play a significant role in their bullpen, will need Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The procedure will keep Rondon out for the season.
Only a day earlier, the Tigers revealed that starting shortstop Jose Iglesias will miss at least five months, and possibly the season, with stress fractures in both legs. Detroit also has lost outfielder Andy Dirks to back surgery this spring, putting him out of action at least until June.
"We've had to deal with a lot of different injury issues during the spring," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "That's why you try to build depth if you possibly can.
"We've had to deal with a lot of issues, and this is another thing that we'll deal with, but some guys will have to step up and do the job, and we think they can."
Like with their shortstop situation, the Tigers plan to address Rondon's absence in-house, although Dombrowski said, "This time of year, you always have your ears out to other places."
The club signed Joba Chamberlain and traded for lefty Ian Krol during the offseason, and it also has Al Alburquerque to pitch behind new closer Joe Nathan. Dombrowski also has been impressed with the work of two other inexperienced righties, Evan Reed and Luke Putkonen, and said lefty Phil Coke has been pitching better of late.
"We weren't locked in on anyone necessarily pitching the eighth," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Bruce was certainly a candidate, high on the list. It may be a situation where someone will step up and take the job moving forward, or it may be a situation where we're going to have to figure out a way to get to the eighth inning at times or in a given game or a given series. But if someone steps up and takes the reins and pitches well in the eighth inning, certainly you'll let him run with it."
Rondon had pitched in seven games this spring, giving up one run on five hits in seven innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts. The fireballer last appeared on Sunday and complained about soreness the next day. The 23-year-old went to see Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday, and an MRI revealed the need for the surgery, a diagnosis confirmed by team orthopedic physician Dr. Stephen Lemos.
"It did come on suddenly," Dombrowski said. "He had not complained at all this spring to us about having any problems whatsoever."
Rondon's surgery is set for sometime next week, and it has not been determined what doctor will perform the procedure. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2015 season.
Rondon went into last spring as the leading candidate to serve as the Tigers' closer after the departure of Jose Valverde. The Venezuela native couldn't secure the job and wound up spending about half the year at Triple-A Toledo.
Most of his work with Detroit came after he returned from the Minors in late June. He appeared in 30 games overall in his first big league season, notching a 3.45 ERA and striking out 30 in 28 2/3 innings, while walking 11. His fastball averaged 97.9 mph, the second fastest pitch in the Majors behind the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, according to FanGraphs.com.
"I think the person we're really looking to step up for us once again -- and we really think he's capable -- is Bruce Rondon," Dombrowski had said back in December. "He's healthy. He's feeling good. We look at him being a potential eighth-inning guy, and the rest of the bullpen falling into place after that."
Rondon did deal with elbow issues last September and pitched in only three games that month. He first felt something after striking out Red Sox slugger David Ortiz on a 103-mph fastball in Boston on Sept. 2 and was shut down for a few weeks. Rondon came back on Sept. 24, dominating with his slider and striking out the side in an inning against the Twins, but felt discomfort again.
Rondon couldn't make it back for the playoffs, a loss that proved costly for the Tigers in the American League Championship Series when Ortiz faced Joaquin Benoit in a crucial spot and hit a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2.
Rondon again was sharp with his slider in his final appearance on Sunday, but according to Dombrowski, doctors didn't say anything about Rondon's current situation being connected to his problems last fall.
"And actually at the beginning of the spring, [Rondon] didn't say anything about it bothering him," Dombrowski said. "But we didn't ask him that question."
Now the injury concerns are mounting for Detroit. In addition to Rondon, Iglesias and Dirks, outfielder Rajai Davis is dealing with hamstring soreness, and pitcher Anibal Sanchez with shoulder inflammation, although both of those conditions are considered minor.