By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — As he looks to regain the form that made him a top-flight reliever before a late-season injury in 2016, Cubs right-hander Hector Rondon will leave big league camp to represent his native Venezuela this week in the World Baseball Classic.
Venezuela has advanced to the second round of the tournament and is playing this week in San Diego, with its next matchup coming Wednesday against Team USA. In addition to helping his country, Rondon wants to rediscover the mojo that he had for much of last season before a triceps strain in mid-August threw him off his rhythm. Rondon believes the significance and high stakes of the WBC will help him do that before the Cubs open the regular season.
“I want to help my country win,” Rondo said. “I feel it will be intense for me. I am so excited to pitch for my country. I think it will be the same adrenaline like the playoffs or World Series. Hopefully, the experience will be all good for me.”
The Cubs believe Rondon playing in the WBC will be beneficial for everyone.
“This is good for him right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I talked to him, and he is excited to represent his country, which is cool. I think him getting into that competition right now is a good thing. This is a win-win situation.”
Rondon relinquished his closer’s role last July when the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees, and Chicago’s acquisition of Wade Davis this offseason to serve as its closer will keep Rondon in his seventh- and eighth-inning role. That’s just fine with him.
“I feel really good, and I used an offseason lifting program this winter,” said Rondon, who had a 3.53 ERA and 0.98 WHIP last season. “I can see it worked really well for me. We do not care what inning we pitch. We only prepare to come in and do the job, be healthy all year.”
Maddon made a point to check in with Rondon early in spring training.
“The manager realized the former closer may be wondering about his role this season,” Maddon said. “When Aroldis walked in last season, (Rondon) was put in a new situation. He was wonderful about it. He was a great team guy about it. Internally, you have to feel something. I thought he dealt with it really well. Now you have Wade Davis walking in the door. Before we actually culminated that deal, I talked to (Rondon) on the phone. Again, he was magnanimous, he was great. Conversationally, he has been great. I am sure part of him was hurt by the decision. I anticipate he will be fine. I think he will fit into his new role really well.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.