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Friday, May 2, 2014
Hector Rondon makes ninth look easy

By Jesse Rogers

Hector Rondon, Welington Castillo
Hector Rondon has allowed one earned run in 14.1 innings this season for the Cubs.

CHICAGO – It had been 222 days since the Chicago Cubs last had a 1-2-3 ninth-inning save. Of course, that’s a bit misleading since it includes the entire offseason -- and since the Cubs only have three saves overall since last Sept. 21 -- but anyone who has watched the team over the past few seasons wouldn’t be surprised that it’s simply a rare occurrence.

Hector Rondon broke that streak Friday with an easy ninth, earning his second save of the season in Chicago's 6-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. His ERA fell to 0.63.

“It feels amazing right now,” the Cubs' new closer said afterward. “Everything I’ve been working on the last year, everything coming [together] now this year. That is good for me.”

Rondon was a Rule 5 pick of the Cubs at the winter meetings of 2012, not exactly coming to Chicago as a big-name pickup. But he slowly showed improvement last season despite finishing with a 4.77 ERA. In nine September appearances, each for an inning, he gave up exactly one hit and two walks. That scoreless streak extended into the first seven appearances this season, as he’s given up just one earned run in 14.1 innings pitched.

“I learn more about myself,” Rondon said. “Be aggressive mentally. Throw strikes. I think that is a big key for me.”

But Rondon was nothing more than a middle reliever. His personality never really screamed closer -- though his stuff is starting to. Rondon credits his increased success with a breaking ball he’s throwing for strikes, but on Friday it was 12 fastballs that got him through the ninth so quickly. All ranged from 92-97 mph.

“Sometimes in the bullpen everyone gets nervous, but when you go the mound everything goes away,” Rondon said of pitching in the ninth.

It remains to be seen if Rondon is the man for the end of games as the Cubs move forward with their rebuilding program -- but he’s the man for now. That’s good enough for a team that’s had more issues earning saves then actual saves themselves.