Rough spring aside, Chicago Cubs see Rondon as their closer
If there's one thing the Cubs should have learned with the emergence of Hector Rondon as their closer, it's that you don't have to overspend to find that guy.
Sometimes they're right under your nose.
Many teams learn the hard way on this one. The Cubs are no exception. Before the 2013 season, the current front office gave Kyuji Fujikawa a two-year, $9.5 million contract when they weren't ready to win. Fujikawa came down with elbow problems and appeared in only 27 games for the Cubs.
They plucked Rondon from the Cleveland organization in the December 2012 Rule 5 draft, and he worked his way into the closer's job.
Last year, Rondon saved 30 games after saving 29 the previous season. He went 6-4 with a 1.67 ERA and a WHIP of 1.00 in 2015.
That's not to say there weren't hiccups along the way. Rondon lost his job for a time during last season, and he has endured a rough go in spring training this year.
Entering Wednesday, the 28-year-old right-hander had an ERA of 17.36, giving up 13 hits in 4⅔ innings.
Nobody seems overly worried.
"I know where I am," said Rondon, as quoted by cubs.com. "The last outing, they got a lot of basehits, a lot of runs. I tried to pound the zone, and I think I did a really good job. My breaking ball was good, sinker was good. The location was a little high, but other than that, I'm fine. My arm feels great, my mind is good. To get that point, to get that rhythm to get ready."
One hallmark of Rondon's young career has been consistency. His strikeouts-per-9 innings and strikeouts-to-walks ratio have remained steady throughout.
If there was one thing that changed, it was that Rondon went to his slider 35.6 percent of the time last year, up from 16.5 percent in 2014, according to FanGraphs.
"This year, maybe I will use my changeup more," he said in the early days of spring training. "I tried to work a little bit on that pitch because I know it helped me. Sometimes the hitters are looking for only one or two pitches. If I have that kind of pitch (changeup) in my pocket, I think I'll have a better chance."
Does breaking the 30-save barrier make Rondon feel like he's an established closer?
"Tough question," he said. "I don't know, especially with my position. I came in last year, and I lost my job. I got it back. I'm really happy with the job I did last year. I feel like, yeah, I made that position for another year."
Bruce Miles lists the National League's top closers:
1: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
2: Mark Melancon, Pirates
3: Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals
6: Hector Rondon, CUBS