MESA, Ariz. — Hector Rondon earned the benefit of the doubt, the luxury of not having to go full throttle every time in spring training. The Cubs watched him evolve from that Rule 5 guy on a 96-loss team to the closer for a World Series favorite.
So there wouldn’t be an overreaction to some bad Cactus League numbers, as much as Cubs fans and the Chicago media remember what happened with Carlos Marmol and Jose Veras and how those ex-closers lost control in Arizona and never seemed to get it back.
Rondon needed only seven pitches to get through the seventh inning during Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Kansas Royals at Sloan Park, getting Drew Butera to pop out in foul territory and striking out Tony Cruz and Terrance Gore to lower his ERA to 17.36.
Rondon watched the video from his rough outing against the Royals last week and determined he wasn’t tipping his pitches. But in his last three appearances, he had given up nine runs on 13 hits.
“I’m not going to make an excuse for him,” Maddon said, beginning an explanation that sort of sounded like an excuse. “The biggest thing is the ninth inning in Surprise (or) Hohokam. This guy is used to an adrenaline rush. From where I’m standing, I think the stuff looks really good. Probably not commanding it exactly where he wants it.
“As long as he tells me he’s healthy — and he is — and he feels good about himself, that’s all I’m concerned about. I really mean that.”
This time in Mesa, Rondon got a record crowd for a spring-training game (15,523). He doesn’t draw attention to himself because he doesn’t have the eccentric personality expected from closers. But he dominated last year, especially after Maddon gave him a midseason breather and moved him out of closing time.
“He did me a favor,” Rondon said. “Because in that moment, my arm didn’t feel good, my mind wasn’t right. But when he (did that), I took the moment to think about (my position on the team) and start working.
“He didn’t put me in the ninth inning with pressure. Just come into the game and pitch. That helped me a lot.”
[SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]
Rondon finished with 30 saves, eight holds, a 1.67 ERA and 15 walks against 69 strikeouts — the numbers that actually matter.
“Seriously, I don’t really feel like (the man),” Rondon said. “(But) I can relax a little bit more, working on little things I need to work on. That is a really big difference. Right now, I feel good and I’m really happy with the situation I’m in.”