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The Detroit Tigers' bullpen has gotten younger, starting with odds-on favorite closer candidate Bruce Rondon.
Rondon, who is 22 years old and can throw over 100 mph, has the ability to have a one-two-three inning, even though he has a tendency to be wild as well. If Rondon can lower his 5.1 walks per nine inning minor league average, then he should find long-term success as a closer.
Rondon isn't the only relief pitcher that will be a difference maker this season. Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal are expected to make the Tigers' roster out of spring training.
After Villarreal had inflammation in his pitching elbow this winter, there were questions about whether the injury would linger—though it appears he's healthy. Villarreal told the Detroit Free Press:
I didn't feel anything at all, sore or anything, Villarreal said. I felt great -- 100%.
Last season, Villarreal appeared in 50 games, pitched 54.2 innings and had an ERA of 2.63. He only allowed 38 hits but gave up 28 walks to go along with his 66 strikeouts. If Villarreal can harness his control and cut down on the walks, then he could provide a huge boost to the Tigers' bullpen.
Alburquerque, who missed most of the 2012 season due to surgery on his right elbow, only pitched 13.1 innings in the regular season. He should give the bullpen a tremendous boost being able to contribute from the start of the 2013 season.
While Alburquerque got a lot of publicity for kissing the ball before throwing it to first base in the 2012 ALDS against the Oakland A's, Tigers fans know how valuable he is. In his two seasons in the major leagues, he has a 13.5 K:9 ratio and a 1.59 ERA.
With numbers like those, Alburquerque is going to play a significant part in helping to improve the pitching staff along with Villarreal and Rondon. The Tigers could be looking at the pitchers of the future who will handle the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.
If these three young pitchers live up to the Tigers' expectations, they will help the pitching staff greatly improve on its one weak spot from last season: The back end of the bullpen.