Bruce Rondon threw a scoreless ninth inning Sunday and locked down a 5-3 win for the White Sox.
So he’s the new closer, right?
It’s no secret that the ninth inning hasn’t been the strongest for White Sox relievers this season, and after Nate Jones’ four-run implosion last week against the Pittsburgh Pirates, maybe it was time for Rick Renteria to turn to a new option at closer.
But look what happened the inning prior to Rondon’s shutdown ninth, and you might see that Sunday was just an example of how Rick Renteria has wanted to use this White Sox bullpen all along.
Jones was the man on for the eighth inning, and he went 1-2-3 to keep the Cubs offense down. But while the ninth inning gets all the glory, it’s very easy to argue that the three outs in the eighth were more difficult to get than the three in the ninth. After all, Jones faced the middle of the Cubs’ order: Willson Contreras (he of the monster weekend against White Sox pitching), Javy Baez (the National League RBI leader) and Kyle Schwarber (kid’s got some pop). Jones got those three to go strikeout, fly out, groundout.
A nice bounce back for Jones, perhaps once more being used in a “closer’s” role, albeit a less traditional one than most folks are used to.
Rondon fared well and was pumped up after he struck out Addison Russell and Ian Happ, then got Ben Zobrist to fly out to end the game after Tommy La Stella’s pinch-hit single.
For Rondon, the one-time “closer of the future” for the Detroit Tigers, he treated it like he was getting the game’s three biggest outs.
“Every time that I go out, my mindset is the closer mindset, and I like it,” Rondon said with the help of a translator.
But Rondon’s manager wasn’t keen to hand out a role to any of his relievers after the game. Instead, he talked about a plan he’s discussed since spring training, one that has multiple guys as “high-leverage” relievers, no matter which inning they happen to pitch in.
“I think in terms of outs, it just happened to be the ninth inning and he got us the outs he needed to get,” Renteria said. “I don't talk to our relievers about innings situations, I talk to them more about getting outs.”
And the bullpen guys get that, too.
“Ricky just tells us to be ready after the seventh because when the situation arises we need to perform there and that's what we have been doing,” Rondon said.
Unmentioned to this point is Joakim Soria, who was added this offseason as a potential closer and a guy who could potentially be flipped for a rebuild-aiding piece this summer. But he hasn’t fared especially well, either, with a 4.38 ERA on the year. Jones has been used in big situations throughout the season to varying degrees of effectiveness. After Sunday’s great eighth inning, he’s got a 4.11 ERA. Rondon’s 4.15 ERA doesn’t exactly scream “new closer,” but he’s had flashes of brilliance, including Sunday, when he blew away a couple Cubs hitters.
But there’s a strong case to be made that Jones got the three biggest outs recorded by a White Sox relief pitcher Sunday, and that might make him as much of a “closer” as the White Sox have.
Maybe Rondon does become the team’s new ninth-inning man. Or maybe this was exactly how Renteria wanted things to play out from Day 1.