LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones built his resume at Triple-A Toledo working out mechanical issues with pitchers he had barely seen in some cases. He's going back to his roots with closing prospect Bruce Rondon.
After a pair of rough Spring Training outings and inconsistent fastball command since Grapefruit League play began a week and a half ago, Rondon is being pulled out of the Tigers' relief rotation this time around so that he can work out some mechanical issues. He'll throw a side session on Wednesday, the day his next game appearance would have been, and then likely return to game action Friday.
The mechanical work will focus on what Jones saw comparing video of Rondon's late-season stint at Triple-A Toledo to what he has seen so far this spring. Jones checked on it after Rondon gave up two runs, including a Tyler Pastornicky home run, Sunday against the Braves.
"We looked at some film this morning," Jones said Monday, "and we saw a couple little things."
Those little differences, Jones believes, might explain why Rondon has been missing high with his fastball so often in his four appearances so far this spring.
Rondon, for his part, said through a translator that he felt a difference in his mechanics this spring. He cited the time off between winter ball in Venezuela and Spring Training as a possible reason. When he saw the video, he immediately identified it.
Jones said he doesn't have a read whether Rondon is trying to overthrow to make an impression, or whether he might be trying to aim the ball to compensate. Though mid-90s fastballs aren't exactly the equivalent of lobbing the ball in, they represent a drop in velocity from his first outing this spring, when he hit 99 mph several times and topped out at 100 two or three times.
"It's tough to say, because this is his first exposure to big league camp," Jones said.
Leyland shoots down idea of Valverde reunion
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland admits he doesn't know who his closer will be when the season begins. Bruce Rondon's early struggles are only part of that mystery. One of the few certainties is one guy it won't be.
A couple of days after a rumor floated that Leyland was interested in bringing back free-agent closer Jose Valverde, Leyland denied any interest in a reunion with Detroit's former closer.
"That's not in the picture, trust me," Leyland said. "That has not even been discussed."
The Tigers had a chance to sign Valverde as a free agent this offseason and chose not to pursue him, Leyland pointed out. Leyland has recommended Valverde to more than one team that has asked about him, but has known all offseason he wasn't coming back to Detroit. Early Spring Training struggles from Rondon weren't going to change that.
Another baseball source that has spoken with the Tigers in recent days echoed that.
At this point, there are no indications any options outside the organization have been discussed yet, or whether any discussions are planned. With 3 1/2 weeks of Spring Training games, they have time to watch and decide.
The most important decision in that will be on Rondon and his readiness.
"At some point, it'll come to a head where [team president/general manager] Dave Dombrowski, myself and the coaches will say, 'Yes, he can,' or, 'No, he's not ready,'" Leyland said. "It'll come to a point sometime. But it's way too early. We're not even near that yet."
If Rondon doesn't take the job, the first option appears to be a mix of the relievers already on the team.
Those options have already been mentioned several times, including Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel. They could also include Rondon in a committee scenario rather than the outright job. In some ways, there might be an advantage to breaking him in that way if the Tigers suspect he could struggle in a full-time job.
The way Leyland discussed it Monday, he was prepared for the possibility. But then, he has readied himself for it to some extent since he realized they would not be adding a veteran closer to replace Valverde.
"The ideal situation is to have a closer, in my opinion," Leyland said. "We don't know for sure if we do or we don't yet. It's way too early for that. I've mixed and matched several times in my career. How that's going to play out, I don't know.
"I'm not any more concerned about it than I was two months ago. When I say that, I don't want to make that sound like a red flag, because I don't mean it that way. I managed the last few years with a closer. So you're used to that."
With quality pitches, Porcello stretches to four innings
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Rick Porcello can't control the number of scouts watching him from behind home plate, or how many radar guns are pointed towards his fastball as he delivers. He's used to the pressure, so Monday's gathering wasn't a big deal for him.
All he can do is pitch, and he left an impression on the mound. He not only became the first Tigers starter to deliver four innings this spring, he struck out six in the process.
Whether he impressed scouts, he certainly impressed manager Jim Leyland. It wasn't so much about the results for him against the Astros as it was about the quality of the pitches.
"Forget the fact that he threw the ball very well," Leyland said. "I thought he had a good curveball -- probably tried to overthrow a few -- and a good changeup, so I'm very pleased with that."
At another point, Leyland said, "He threw some terrific sinkers as well, with actually a little bit more velocity. Sometimes his sinker's better around 90 [mph]. Today he was throwing some sinkers 92-93 that were really good."
Add in a four-seam fastball that topped out at 94 mph, and Porcello had an arsenal of four quality pitches. He credits the work he did with pitching coach Jeff Jones on his mechanics, both over the winter and near the end of last season.
"I think the consistency of everything is coming together nicely," Porcello said. "I think continue to try to get even better with it, but it's coming together. I'm getting the breaking ball down in the zone a little better."
Three of his six strikeouts were on fastballs, two were on curveballs, and another on a changeup. He did not throw any sliders again, and he isn't saying for sure whether that will be something he picks up.
"It wouldn't hurt to have a show-me pitch," Leyland said, "but we want to take first things first."
Boesch slated to DH in Tigers' Minor League tilt
LAKELAND, Fla. -- After being out of action for the vast majority of camp, Brennan Boesch finally has a path back to playing time in his bid for an outfield spot. It'll begin, of all places, with a few at-bats against a college team.
With the Tigers' big league club off on Tuesday, the Minor Leaguers will take the field at Joker Marchant Stadium for an afternoon game against Western Michigan University. The plan is for Boesch to serve as the designated hitter in that game, getting four at-bats before the Tigers turn him loose against big league competition.
It's a way to ease him in against live pitching without overwhelming, and a way to get him at-bats without risking an aggravation of the oblique strain that sidelined him for nearly three weeks.
If he gets through that game in good shape, Boesch could be back on the field at the stadium Wednesday, this time for the big league club against the Blue Jays.
Tigers send pair of catchers to Minor League camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first roster cuts of Tigers camp came early this year, but they were the same type of moves that have initially thinned out the roster each spring. Extra catchers Curt Casali and James McCann were reassigned to Minor League camp after Monday's win over the Astros.
Simply put, they weren't going to get enough playing time going forward to further their development before the season opens. They were in camp primarily to help catch the many pitchers in camp during early workouts before games began.
"This is much better for working purposes," manager Jim Leyland said.
Both will have Tuesday off before reporting to Minor League camp on Wednesday.
McCann was the Tigers' top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Arkansas. The 22-year-old split last season between Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, combining for a .237 average with 22 doubles, two home runs and 39 RBIs. He's expected to return to Erie for this season.
The 24-year-old Casali, a 10th-round pick in that same 2011 Draft out of Vanderbilt, split last season between West Michigan and Lakeland. Between the two levels, he hit .270 with 25 doubles, nine home runs and 43 RBIs in 94 games. Most likely, he'll return to Lakeland.