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Levine: Hector Rondon Confident In Closer's Role For Cubs

By Bruce Levine-

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- Late in the 2013 season, a light went on for Cubs closer Hector Rondon.

"I had had some ups and downs," he said. "One day I said to myself -- 'I am in control of the outcome, just be confident. Everything changed for me at that point."

Rondon won the closing job in 2014 after others had been injured or failed to be consistent enough to hold the demanding job. A 27-year old-Venezuela native, Rondon made good on 29 of 32 save opportunities last season and posted a 2.42 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He never looked back after taking control of the job in late May.

"Coming in this year, I am working the same as I had the last two springs," Rondon said. "I may have a better chance at my job now, but I still have to improve and stay consistent. I try not to think too much about my job and just work on my game."

The Chicago bullpen is loaded with big arms that collectively had a positive 2014 season, posting a 3.61 ERA as a unit. Yet there will be more meaningful games and greater expectations of the team in 2015, and the young bullpen will be under the microscope when it comes to playing up to the level they set last year and exceeding it.

"We may have more chances in games we are ahead," Rondon said. "I don't see (bigger games) affecting me and what I have to do to get outs. For me, every time I come into the ninth inning, it is a big deal. My teammates, the fans and organization all depend on me to get the job done. That does not change."

Rondo features a 96-mph fastball, a slider and a cutter that he has backed away from a bit.

"I am using my slider more than my cutter," he said. "The cutter is more for making the hitter make contact. My two fastballs and slider are for swing and miss. For now, I prefer the two-seam, four-seam and slider. My confidence in my fastball and slider have changed things for me. I know the hitters better, and now I understand their game plan and mine."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said early in the spring that Rondon was his end-of-game guy. Rondon hasn't had extensive talks with Maddon yet, though.

"We talked a little, but he lets the pitching people work with us," Rondon said. "I know he watches everything and is a fun guy to be around."

With the focus on winning now, it's inevitable Rondon will be overscrutinized every time a save isn't converted.

"The first two times I blew a save, it was very hard for me to handle," Rondon admitted. "You expect to get the job done, but you know you will miss sometimes. Now with the team and the media, it is easier to talk about blowing a save. We are human and not perfect. Really the hard part is facing my teammates, when they had done a really good job of getting us to that point. You learn to move on."

Rondon will take a positive mental approach into 2015 after converting 15 straight save chances dating back to Aug. 12.

"We have grown together in the bullpen," Rondon said. "We have mostly the same group as last season. We have gotten very close, and that helps everyone out there. We have fun, but we talk a lot about getting hitters out. We trust each other."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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