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There were a number of things to take away from the Tigers' 16-2 blowout at home against the Kansas City Royals. What dominated the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons, was reliever Bruce Rondon drilling Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. Presumably, the reason was for the Royals still aggressively tacking on runs in a game that was already chalked up as a win for Kansas City.
It's this latest episode of apathy and disdain towards his team and the sport in general should be the final nail in the coffin that is Rondon's time with the Tigers.
What really heightens this latest debacle with Rondon are the actions from his teammates and coaches during and after the bench-clearing altercation. Manager Brad Ausmus was at a loss for words when trying to describe what happened and why Rondon decided to bean Moustakas, to the point where he couldn't defend his actions.
Important to understand the context of what specifically Rondon was supposedly upset about. He allowed a base hit to Lorenzo Cain with one out, followed by a balk in the next at-bat that moved Cain up to second. Eric Hosmer then singled home Cain during that next AB. Rondon allegedly took exception with the Royals still giving max effort in a 13-2 game at the time. And it apparently warranted plunking Mike Moustakas.
Rondon's teammate, outfielder Justin Upton, was asked after the game if he had an issue with Cain scoring from second on a base hit, basically if there was an “unwritten rule” on that type of situation. Upton, like his manager and the other players I would imagine, had no problem with Cain doing his job.
And speaking of job and the whole “giving max effort” mantra, that was something Rondon was not doing from the moment he trotted out of the bullpen onto the mound. And the biggest indicator of this is looking inside the numbers from last night a little deeper.
Any Tigers fan who has remotely seen Rondon pitch over his first four seasons now for Detroit (2013, 2015-17) knows he is a guy that has a power arm, can hit upper 90's and touch triple digits with little trouble. He's primarily been a two-pitch pitcher in his career, hurling heaters roughly 61 percent of the time while flipping up sliders on average close to 33 percent (he sparingly throws a change-up) as well.
Let's focus in on his fastball now. The average velocity for his career has been nearly 98 mph; average of 96.6 mph this season. Remember that ratio of his repertoire, typically tries to change it up to increase his effectiveness each time he's out there.
Now let's flash back to last night again. Rondon entered a 13-2 ballgame and threw just 12 pitches before being ejected. His final line: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, K and the balk that pushed Cain into scoring position. But of his 12 pitches, not only were they all fastballs, they were all had a noticeable dip in velocity. In fact, the average velocity of his 12 pitches on Wednesday was under 95 mph. Considering the average velocity of his fastballs were at least 97 mph in each of his last six outings, it's easy to suspect that he was not giving his all when called upon.
What may be even more disturbing is that this may not have been the first time he's half-assed an outing this season. Throw it back to early in the season, April 9 at home against the Red Sox. Rondon entered the eighth inning of a 4-3 Tigers lead and faced just three batters, giving up a hit and two walks. He was taken out after that and all three of those runs came around to score and were charged to his line.
Rondon was optioned down to Triple-A Toledo the very next day. So why bring up that April 9 outing against Boston? Because it mirrors what he did on Wednesday. He threw seven pitches in that appearance vs. the Sox, all fastballs that are well below what we're using to seeing in the velocity department from him.
As a matter of fact, those are the only two outings of his 15 this season where he threw 100 percent fastballs and they were the two lowest registered average velocities of any outing he has turned in. See for yourself here.
Tigers fans are certainly no strangers to Rondon's lack of work effort and accountability, as well as having temper problems. And they got to see all of that on display Wednesday night in his latest outing.
After all, this is the same pitcher that was sent home for a lack of effort towards the tail end of the 2015 season, a decision made by the club that received full support from the players at the time.
Then it was that subsequent offseason when Rondon was pitching in a Venezuelan winter league game and ignited a bench-clearing skirmish. It was almost as if that he never took the punishment he got from the Tigers months before — punishment resembling that of a young grade school student being sent home for bad, childish behavior — to heart and didn't bother to address it.
And the “lack of accountability” aspect of it? Rondon declined to talk with any media members on Thursday after the game, effectively throwing his teammates and skipper under the bus.
As if all of what we have gone over already wasn't unnerving and frustrating enough, there is, of course, his development, or lack thereof, as a potential X-factor for the Tigers bullpen. The numbers he has accumulated year after year thus far in his career are so up and down, it's possible that Comerica Park has a new roller coaster ride in the works called the “Rondon Wreckage” (We are accepting any and all other name suggestions for such a ride).
This is a ride that needs to be shut down and closed immediately at Comerica Park. The Tigers need to make the right decision and move on from the hard-throwing right-hander. Rondon's a) unwillingness to mature as a professional athlete and person, b) continued lack of effort, and c) lack of understanding of the sport's “unwritten rules” if you will collectively triumph over questions of whether or not he can truly be a prime-time power reliever in baseball.
Tigers general manager Al Avila has a lot on his plate with the trade deadline looming. But his first order of business should be cutting Bruce Rondon. Do the fans and the rest of those players a favor and remove his toxic presence from the organization.