After an injury derailed his 2016 season late in the summer, Chicago Cubs reliever Hector Rondon is looking to regain his form pitching for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
Two years ago, the Chicago Cubs made a deep postseason run after winning one of the NL wild card spots. Sure, Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and others garnered most of the accolades and praise, but Hector Rondon was an elite reliever over the course of the 2015 season.
Racking up a career-high 70 innings, he pitched to a sterling 1.67 ERA, benefiting from a solid Cubs’ defense behind him, as evidenced by his 2.68 FIP. Still, he saved 30 games for Chicago, giving first-year skipper Joe Maddon a sure thing at the back of his bullpen.
Fast forward to last season.
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Through the All-Star Break, Rondon was much of the same. He carried a 1.72 earned run average, a 10.5 SO/BB ratio and a .157 batting average against. Then, he sustained an injury, lost the closer’s role to Aroldis Chapman at the deadline and the wheels came off.
"“When Aroldis walked in the door last year, all of a sudden he was pushed into a different situation,” Maddon told CSN Chicago. “He was wonderful about it, a great team guy about it. But internally you got to feel something, and I thought he dealt with it really well."
Whether it was the injury or the new role, Rondon struggled mightily in the second half of the season. His ERA skyrocketed to an unsightly 6.41, his WHIP more than doubled and opponents hit .316 against him. In essence, he lost all effectiveness as a relief option for Maddon.
Getting his mind right for the season
That hesitance to use Rondon carried over into the postseason, where Maddon rode Chapman for multiple innings several times. But now, the right-hander is hoping pitching for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic gets his mind right for 2017.
"“It’s going to be intense,” Rondon said. “I’m excited, because I’ve never pitched for my country, and I feel like it’s almost going to be the same adrenaline as the playoffs or the World Series.”"
According to Maddon, Rondon has, without fail, accepted his role. Last year, he lost the closer’s job through no fault of his own. This winter, he experienced the same thing when the team acquired Wade Davis.
Between Davis and acquisition Koji Uehara, Rondon seems destined for middle relief. At best, he’ll see some eighth-inning appearances. But his days as the Chicago Cubs’ closer are over. If he can regain his edge in the WBC, the Cubs may have a bullpen that rivaled that of the Royals’ in recent years.
"“It’s good for him,” Maddon said. “Talking to him, he’s really excited about representing his country, which I think is cool. Watching him throw, he’s ready to go. He’s in good shape."