PHOENIX – Hector Rondon spoiled Cubs fans with all those stress-free ninth innings.
The Cubs made a low-risk, long-term play with Rondon, grabbing the Rule 5 pick from the Cleveland Indians at the 2012 winter meetings and watching him gradually develop into a dominant closer last year – for a last-place team.
The Cubs have expectations now and the games actually matter, which shines a spotlight on all these bullpen issues.
“I feel the same pressure every time I come in to pitch,” Rondon said Saturday at Chase Field. “It doesn’t matter for me.”
The night before, Rondon had blown his second save in a week during a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks that lasted 13 innings. Rondon might not be available until Sunday – and there could be points where manager Joe Maddon wants to reduce his workload – but otherwise the Cubs are sticking with their closer.
“I’m not going to run away from him,” Maddon said.
Trying to protect a two-run lead on Friday, Rondon regretted the location of two pitches with two outs in the 10th inning. Rondon got two strikes on A.J. Pollock, who lined a slider down the left-field line for a double. Paul Goldschmidt – a two-time All-Star and the National League’s MVP runner-up in 2013 – worked a 2-2 count before crushing a 97 mph fastball for the game-tying, two-run homer.
“He’s just flying open a little bit,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “When I see a pitcher like that, it’s hard to make a pitch down and away glove-side. Everything goes forward so quick and he doesn’t give it enough time for the arm to catch up.
“The release point is just up here and the ball just runs middle-middle in. It just stays middle, rather than staying on top of the ball and having some carry to it on the outside corner. It’s just something (he’s) got to work on. He’s got to get better at it.”
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Rondon – who’s given up six runs through nine innings in May – doesn’t believe his mechanics are out of alignment: “I felt really good – my arm, my body, my mind, too. I missed the location, that’s it.”
Rondon missed most of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery and subsequent problems with his right elbow. He took over the closer’s job last May and ran with it, converting 29 of 33 save chances and excelling after the All-Star break (0.62 ERA).
“I really don’t have any doubt in my mind that he’s going to be fine,” Montero said. “It’s just a little tweak here and there.”
Rondon started this season with six consecutive scoreless appearances, and has gone 9-for-12 in save opportunities. The Cubs think their closer will put it all together.
“There’s so many different things we could have done execution-wise, and we didn’t,” Maddon said. “That’s why this game is so interesting. If they were all robots that never made mistakes, it would be a very boring game.”