LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - The Detroit Tigers opened spring training expecting Bruce Rondon to be their closer.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland refuses to commit to the rookie right-hander, who been erratic this spring and struggled again in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.
Cole Hamels had his final start of the spring for the Phillies and pitched three scoreless innings, while Justin Verlander, who will start for the Tigers in Minnesota on opening day, allowed an earned run in 5 2/3 innings.
Despite Philadelphia's and Detroit's aces putting in quality work, Rondon remained the topic in the Tigers' clubhouse.
He pitched only 2/3 of an inning in relief and allowed two earned runs, raising his spring ERA to 5.84. Rondon also walked two and was charged with a balk.
Leyland wouldn't give any final comment on the closer situation. He has said all spring he is only comfortable if he has a regular closer and that a bullpen by committee isn't his first choice. He said he has answered every question he can about Rondon and the closer situation.
``We need to stop talking about Rondon,' Leyland said. ``A soon as I have any answer I'll let you know.'
Rondon has pitched 12 1/3 innings this spring in 13 games. He's allowed at least a run in five of those games. Leyland said he still likes what he's seen out of Rondon, who pitched in back-to-back games for the first time this spring.
``He's just happy to still be with the team,' Leyland said. ``It's been hard on him see the way things are written about him every day and I think he's handled all of that pretty well.'
Rondon has never pitched in the majors but can hit 100 mph on the radar gun. Catcher Alex Avila said he's impressed by what he's seen.
``He really looks OK,' Avila said. ``Everyone has placed all these high expectations on him. They expect him to strike out three batters every inning and that's just not going to happen.'
Avila said Rondon is going to be fine if he doesn't give in to the pressure.
``Everybody is talking about him and writing about him,' Avila said. ``There's a lot of pressure being put on a kid who has never been put in a position this tough. He's still learning.'
Verlander said he is as ready as he can be for the season opener. He took a shot to his right heel on a line drive by Ben Revere, but he stayed in the game and said he expected a bruise but nothing more.
Hamels got in his work and was done after three innings. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he was ready to get Hamels - and the rest of the Phillies - out of Florida.
``We're ready to get back to real baseball,' Manuel said. ``Cole has been dominant and he's just ready to start the season. I know what we need to get out of him I know he's ready.'
Hamels will start for the Phillies on Monday at Atlanta.
Ben Revere raised his spring average to .325 with two hits for the Phillies.
Torii Hunter had two hits, including a double, for the Tigers.
NOTES: Phillies INF Kevin Frandsend was hit by a Verlander pitch in his left wrist and said it wasn't a problem. ... The Phillies will play their final spring game in Clearwater on Thursday when Roy Halladay starts against the Blue Jays. Brandon Morrow will start for Toronto. ... Tigers OF Quintin Berry was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. He has been sidelined for much of the spring with patellar tendinitis. ... Non-roster invitee IF/OF Don Kelly was told by Leyland that he has made the team. He batted .186 in 75 games for the Tigers last year and signed as a minor league free agent. ... LHP Drew Smyly, who lost out on the final spot in the Tigers' rotation and was sent to the bullpen, allowed five hits and one earned run in a Triple-A game Wednesday. ... Verlander said he wasn't concerned that the temperature in Minnesota on opening day is expected to be in the low-30s. ... Anibal Sanchez will start for Detroit on Thursday in Kissimmee against the Houston Astros. Philip Humber will start for the Astros.
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