Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has assembled his own personal island of misfit toys over the past couple of seasons – the likes of Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman, Jake Arrieta – to name a few – have turned around their careers or, at the very least, turned in above-average campaigns for Chicago of late. The latest hurler to add to the list is the Cubs’ current closer and former Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon.
Rondon notched his 21st save of the season Sunday afternoon at Wrigley – a total that ranks 13th amongst all big league relievers. A strong finish to the season could see the Venezuelan right-hander move into the top ten in the league, which would be a nice feather in the cap for a 26-year-old who posted a 4.77 ERA in 54 2/3 innings of work for Chicago last season.
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Control issues plagued Rondon in 2013 – he allowed six long-balls in the aforementioned 54 2/3 innings, while also issuing 25 walks. This season, however, the Chicago flamethrower has walked just 13 in 51 innings of work and has allowed just one home run – both drastic improvements from a year prior, while also handling closing duties for the first time in his big league career.
Of all the statistics one could mention to note his improvement, his strikeout-to-walk ratio seems to be the one that jumps off the page. Last season, his K/BB ratio was a disappointing 1.76. This season, that rate has jumped to 4.08 – indicative of his ever-improving command – especially of his secondary pitches.
Chicago claimed Rondon as a Rule-5 selection last year from the Indians and, once again, the Cubs front office uncovered a diamond in the rough. First-year skipper Ricky Renteria recently talked to Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago about his closer’s emergence in 2014.
"“It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment,” Renteria said. “He’s a young man who is really chipping away at the role. He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously, but he continues to develop his slider, his mix of pitches in order to get guys off his fastball because there was a point and time there where guys were just looking for his fastball and taking advantage of him and not allowing him to get through that particular inning.”"
Rondon has blown four saves this season, but with his limited experience, it’s not difficult to understand some bumps in the road along the way. The real story – aside from Rondon’s battle back to become one of the better relievers in the league – is that the front office continues to capitalize on these types of players. Players who want to outwork their competition and prove they belong in Major League Baseball.
With Rondon still coming into his own, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer may know that more is possible. As Cubs fans, we can only hope this is the case.