PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets third baseman David Wright hits the best pitchers. For example, Wright has singled on both of his at-bats in All-Star Games against Justin Verlander.
So it was no demerit for Bruce Rondon that he gave up a line-drive RBI single to Wright with two out in the fifth inning Friday. It was the first run Rondon, the rookie prospective closer, has allowed in three exhibition outings. It came after Verlander had retired all nine hitters he faced in a smooth second start of the spring.
What Rondon has to prevent -- if he wants to win and hold the closer's job -- is the means by which Wright came to the plate in the fifth.
Rondon took over to begin the inning. He allowed a leadoff single, then retired the next two hitters. Shortstop Ruben Tejada stepped in, and Wright was on deck.
Rondon threw a wild pitch on a 1-2 count to Tejada, then walked him. A walk like this -- a two-out walk to the No. 2 hitter -- is one of the worst things a pitcher can do because it brings up the No. 3 hitter, who typically is much more of a power hitter and an RBI threat than the No. 2 hitter. With two outs, the pitcher usually is better off throwing a fastball down the middle to the No. 2 hitter than walking him.
Then Rondon fell behind Wright, 2-0, with two fastballs. That made five consecutive pitches for balls. Control has eluded Rondon at times in the minors. Pitching coach Jeff Jones went to the mound to put Rondon back in sync.
Wright jumped on the next pitch, a fastball, and lined it to left to score the run. After throwing in his typical high 90s to the previous hitters, Rondon's pitches to Wright were either 94 or 95 miles per hour.
Rondon was asked in Spanish why his velocity dropped against Wright. With catcher Brayan Pena acting as his translator, he said he switched from a four-seam fastball to a two-seam went fastball to improve his control a bit. The two-seamer isn't as fast as the four-seamer.
The Tigers don't want Rondon to pitch to situations in spring training. The results don't count, so they just want him to pitch his best against every hitter. They don't want him to give in to Tejada and throw one down the middle because an All-Star was on deck. That's a regular-season strategy.
Asked if it was a thrill to face an All-Star such as Wright, Rondon said through Pena: "No -- I just came out to do my job."
As opposed to their two All-Star meetings, Verlander won Friday's matchup with Wright, his fellow Virginian. He struck him out looking to end the first.
"I told him he's got to swing!" Verlander said. "Just joking around with him. We grew up playing against each other. If you are going to have fun with somebody, now is the time. Obviously, you wouldn't do that during the season."
Wright said of Verlander: "If they would have let him keep going, this game would have been over in about an hour and a half. "He's (in) good, midseason form. He was out there working on some stuff and really hitting spots."
Verlander fanned three as he rolled through his three innings.
"For the most part, my fastball location is good, if not better, than where it should be by now," he said. "And I feel like it was coming out pretty free and easy, again for this time of year. The only couple things: The first change-up I threw was kind of hard. Then I made the adjustment. Slowed that down. And (I threw) a couple hanging breaking balls. But my breaking ball is usually the last thing to come around for me."
Friday might be remembered as the first time this year that Verlander and Rondon pitched in the same game. They could become like Verlander and Joel Zumaya: a 200-m.p.h. exacta.
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