Rondon gaining confidence in slider

Righty using off-speed pitch to set up triple-digit heater

Rondon gaining confidence in slider

SEATTLE -- Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon threw eight pitches to Franklin Gutierrez with the game on the line Tuesday night. Seven of them were sliders, including the 3-1 pitch that got Rondon back in the at-bat.

This pitch selection would've been inconceivable when Rondon came up a couple of years ago. For all the starts and stops his career has taken since, it's a statement to the type of pitcher he's becoming. So, too, was the fastball, which ranged from 95 to 101 mph.

"A lot of times, when Rondon is pitching, guys gear up for the fastball," said catcher Alex Avila, who called for the slider. "The other thing with Rondon is that I've got confidence that he can throw his off-speed for strikes. That's what going to make him separate himself from being good to really good, is being able to throw his off-speed stuff for strikes.

"A lot of guys who throw as hard as he does, when they run into struggles is when they have to throw a fastball on a certain pitch. They have to throw it and the hitter knows it they can't command something else."

From a usage standpoint, Rondon is actually throwing the slider about as often now (22.4 percent of his pitches this season, according to Fangraphs) as he did two years ago (22.2 percent). However, there seems to be a greater confidence in it.

"When I caught him a couple years ago, I could see that it was there," Avila said. "The thing about it is when I called it, he would throw it."

Add in a bigger variance on his fastball, and Rondon is setting up his 101 mph heater better now than when he was trying to throw it all the time two years ago.

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