Firing nothing but fastballs that ranged from 96-98 mph, Rondon held off the Milwaukee Brewers for the second consecutive day to finish off a 4-2 victory Sunday.
He not only closed out victories on back-to-back days, he also improved to 5-for-5 on save opportunities this season.
“I put it in my mind to try to keep the game close, make good pitches and get guys out,” Rondon said. “That is what was on my mind.”
It seemed, though, that his mind would only get scrambled once the Brewers’ Ryan Braun led off the ninth inning with a double off the top of the ivy in right-center field. It brought the tying run to the plate with nobody out.
Instead of folding in a key moment, though, the right-hander only got better. He struck out cleanup hitter Jonathan Lucroy with a 97 mph fastball, got power-hitting Mark Reynolds to pop up to first base and closed things out by striking out Khris Davis on a 98 mph pitch.
Instead of getting him off his game, the Braun double had the opposite effect.
“Yeah, I think he was just thinking about getting after the next hitter,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “Once a guy gets on, I think those guys just settle down and try to make the pitches to the next guy. I don’t think it really rattled him and he always seems excited when he gets the last out.”
When the final strike was recorded, Rondon bent down in a crouch and pumped his right fist in a move that could end up becoming his trademark celebration if things continue this way.
While it might have looked like the Braun double got Rondon to put more energy into his outing, it might have been that the opposite was happening. Like a golfer who uses a controlled swing to hit it farther, Rondon actually improved with a more deliberate approach.
“I try to make a good pitch and be aggressive to the hitter and I think he got me on that pitch,” Rondon said. “I still was working on keeping the ball down and keep trying to help the team to win.”
It’s but a small sign that the often chaotic ninth inning could be a place that Rondon can shine.
The Cubs clearly will need to see more. After all, Sunday was only the team’s 11th save opportunity all season, tied with the Chicago White Sox for fewest in the major leagues. By contrast, the Brewers already have experienced 24 save situations, which leads baseball.
So does Rondon think he has shown enough to be the permanent closer even when Pedro Strop returns from his groin strain?
“Most of the time I will be ready for any situation,” Rondon said. “If they want to put me in the second or third inning, whatever situation I’ll take it. I say thank you to give that chance to me.”
Saying the right things won’t hurt his chances either.