DETROIT -- The Tigers' closer of the future didn't need long to become the relief help of the present. Bruce Rondon, whose triple-digit fastball made him a closer candidate during Spring Training, earned his first call to the big leagues Tuesday to replace the injured Octavio Dotel.
The Tigers placed Dotel on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. They recalled Rondon from Triple-A Toledo, where his season-opening stint as the Mud Hens' closer featured dominant numbers a year after the right-hander skyrocketed through the Tigers' farm system.
Rondon will not close games from the outset. With Jose Valverde traveling to Detroit on Tuesday and potentially on the verge of joining the Tigers, as well, it's not clear who exactly will be closing games in Detroit beyond Tuesday. For now, manager Jim Leyland plans to take Rondon's big league apprenticeship slowly.
"I'm going to get him out there and pitch him," Leyland said. "I don't want to paint myself in a corner, because I don't know exactly how it'll work out. I'd like to break him a little bit easier, maybe the sixth inning or the seventh inning or something like that to start with.
"He's not going to be closer to start with as we speak. That doesn't mean he would never close a game. That just means, right now, I want to break him in, get his feet wet in the big leagues a little bit, see what he looks like."
As the Mud Hens' closer, Rondon settled into a rhythm and showed the command that seemed to come and go in Spring Training. He allowed five hits over 7 2/3 shutout innings, walking two and striking out nine. He went 3-for-4 in save opportunities, the exception coming April 15, when he couldn't escape a bases-loaded jam.
Even so, Rondon struck out four batters over 1 2/3 innings in that outing and didn't allow a walk. He hasn't walked a batter in his past four appearances, spanning 4 2/3 innings.
That control likely played a major role in the Tigers' decision to promote Rondon now rather than letting him continue his Triple-A education. Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said they had several deserving candidates in the Hens' bullpen, but that staff members in Toledo and player development personnel recommended Rondon.
Rondon joins a Tigers bullpen that could use his help after relievers threw a combined 20 1/3 innings in Detroit's past five games, including a 13-inning loss Sunday against the Angels.
Dotel was unavailable Sunday, which helped put the Tigers in the precarious position of having only left-handers available in the bullpen as the game rolled into extra innings. Dotel said after that game that the elbow inflammation that sidelined him the previous weekend hadn't gone away. It still hasn't.
"When you have inflammation, you can pitch, but it's in your head," Dotel said. "When you come into the game, even though you don't want to think about that, you have that in your head. The uncomfortable feeling is there. It never goes away. It doesn't matter the situation you are in in the game."
With nine games in the next nine days, Detroit couldn't chance being short-handed again.
"The elbow kind of tightened up the one day, got better and then it came back," Leyland said. "So we just decided let's shut him down a few days, then have him throw, and then send him out [on a rehab assignment] and see if he can get rid of this once and for all."
"We just agreed for my best, for the team's best, to help everyone," Dotel said. "They asked me what I think, and I just decided. I'm probably not at the best feeling and throwing-wise because I'm not feeling good, the way I would love to feel when I come into the game to throw. I was trying to get through, but it's early. I don't think we have to push that hard when we have guys who can do the job also."
Dotel pitched Friday against the Angels, so the move was made retroactive to Saturday. He'll be eligible to return from the DL on May 5, the last day of a four-game series in Houston.
The 39-year-old has pitched 4 2/3 innings over six outings this year, but his average fastball velocity is down about 3 mph from last year, according to fangraphs.com. That said, the Tigers have been bringing Dotel along slowly because of his limited work in Spring Training and during the World Baseball Classic.