Pragmatic Rondon learning from spring woes

Pragmatic Rondon learning from spring woes

MESA, Ariz. -- Hector Rondon has given up the most runs of any Cubs pitcher this spring, which is not a good sign, yet the right-hander isn't worried. A bullpen session on Friday was encouraging, as was a video review of his last outing, which confirmed he wasn't tipping his pitches.

Of course, it's hard to rattle Rondon. After all, he survived being locked in the bullpen bathroom in St. Louis for about five minutes in Game 1 of the National League Division Series last October.

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On Wednesday, in his fourth spring outing, Rondon served up five runs on seven hits over two-thirds of an inning against the Royals. Told that manager Joe Maddon said he wasn't concerned, Rondon smiled.

"Me, either," Rondon said. "I know where I am. The last outing, they got a lot of base hits, 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."

It's hard to get that adrenaline rush closers thrive on in a Spring Training game when the crowd has thinned out.

"It's a little hard," Rondon said, "but I know I have to put my mind in that moment. Every time I come into the game, I have to be aggressive. Right now, it's a little hard."

Veteran reliever Pedro Strop joined Rondon to watch film of the closer's Wednesday outing.

"We went to the video room to see if we were tipping pitches or something like that," Rondon said. "The other day, fastball, double, slider, double, homer -- something crazy."

They didn't see any indication that Rondon was giving hitters a heads up.

"I feel really good," Rondon said. "The velocity is coming a little bit up. The last outing was 96, 94 [mph]. Hopefully, someday 97 and more control and everything is better."

Last May, the right-hander scuffled, posting a 4.38 ERA in 12 games and lost his job as the closer. He felt Maddon's decision was the best thing that happened to him.

"He did me a favor," Rondon said. "In those moments, my arm didn't feel good, my mind wasn't right. When he put me down, I took the moment to think about me, for myself, and start working with my mind clear so I don't come in the ninth inning with pressure, nothing like that. I just come into the game and pitch."

He finished with a 1.10 ERA in the second half and ended the year with a career-high 30 saves in 34 opportunities. He now has postseason experience from last year. Does he feel more established as a closer now?

"Right now I can relax a little bit more, work on things I need to work on," he said. "That is a big difference, and I feel really good with that. When you have that possibility to come into Spring Training and can relax, I think my work is better on what I'm doing. Right now I feel really good and I'm really happy with the situation I'm in now."

He's a better pitcher after last year's struggles.

"I learned more to pitch in the moment, be pitch by pitch and take it more like, 'Right now, make that pitch; OK, boom,'" Rondon said. "Before, I pitched, [it was], 'OK, one out, I need a fly ball,' but right now, I think more pitch by pitch. That's what I learned last year in the second half."

And also to take a screwdriver with him into the bullpen bathroom just in case the door doesn't open.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.