Rondon's sore shoulder may create open roster spot

Power right-handed reliever questionable to break camp with Tigers

Rondon's sore shoulder may create open roster spot

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The biggest news out of the Tigers' bullpen parade Wednesday took place without a pitch being thrown. Bruce Rondon was supposed to throw, pitching in back-to-back games, until he woke up with a sore right shoulder that didn't go away when he tried to stretch out during pregame warmups at Osceola County Stadium. He ended up back in Lakeland for treatment.

It's different than the elbow issue that cost him last season due to Tommy John surgery, and it's not believed to be related to the sore neck that sidelined him last weekend. It's not even severe enough at this point for team officials to order an exam.

With camp breaking in a few days, however, it's a new version of an age-old problem: It's tough to make the team from the training room.

Ausmus on team's bullpen

"If he can't pitch, obviously it's a lot tougher to be on the team," Ausmus said. "In that sense, it's a big concern."

Ausmus has said multiple times over the last couple days that he needs Rondon to prove he can pitch in consecutive games if he's going to make the big league club. Between the sore neck and now the shoulder, he has pitched once in the last five days at a time when most pitchers are hitting regular-season form.

"He needs to pitch back-to-back before we can assume that he's OK to pitch on a regular basis at the Major League level," Ausmus repeated after Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Astros.

The Tigers should know more about his chances Thursday morning. If he can't return on time, that leaves at least two open spots to decide before camp breaks. Ausmus will have no problem getting a look at his candidates.

Though Rondon didn't pitch Wednesday, Kyle Ryan, Tom Gorzelanny, Blaine Hardy and Joe Nathan did. Angel Nesbitt, whose candidacy has seemed to hinge on Rondon's status given their similarities, is scheduled to pitch the first inning of Thursday's game against the Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium. Ian Krol will also likely pitch, as could Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain.

Top Prospects: Nesbitt, DET

The Tigers set it up this way for a reason, even before Rondon's status came down to the wire. They knew their rotation before camp started, and they knew they could get innings for starters in Minor League games, so they could give innings down the stretch to relievers.

The only inning with runs allowed by Detroit pitchers Wednesday was the first, and the three runs off Ryan included a chopper for a double that followed a catcher's interference, and a ground ball through the middle.

"I thought he actually pitched a lot better than what the scoreboard showed," Ausmus said. "He got a lot of ground balls, weak ground balls."

Gorzelanny pitched his first big league game in two weeks and retired all five batters he faced. Hardy earned a pair of called third strikes in his inning, then stranded George Springer after his two-out double.

Nathan changed eye levels with low-90s high fastballs and two-seamers to strike out Evan Gattis and Chris Carter, extended his inning with a four-pitch walk to Jason Castro, then ended his day when Jake Marisnick flied out to the warning track in center field.

"He was consistently 91-92, and hit 93," Ausmus said. "He pitched up with his four-seamer a little bit, threw a couple good sliders, struck out a couple guys. He did a good job."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.