Hector Rondon leaves for WBC, compares emotions to World Series

MESA, Ariz. — Team Venezuela’s dramatic victory over Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic on Monday night meant another shot at World Series emotions for Cubs setup man Hector Rondon.

Rondon left the Cubs on Tuesday to join his countrymen in San Diego for the second round of the WBC, his first experience with the tournament, which he compared to the postseason run last fall.

The big difference for him this time around is the chance to have a significant late-inning impact for a Venezuelan team that might have its best shot at reaching the championship.

“I feel it’s going to be intense for me, and exciting, too, because I’ve never pitched for my country,” Rondon said. “I feel like the adrenaline is going to be maybe the same as the playoffs or World Series. But hopefully everything will be going good for me.”

Hector Rondon

Rondon, 29, didn’t always feel like that was the case during the Cubs’ historic run. After being supplanted as the closer by newcomer Aroldis Chapman, Rondon suffered a triceps injury late in the season and wasn’t used the way he expected during the World Series.

Manager Joe Maddon said that was because of the way Rondon looked after returning from the injury. Rondon said he was 100 percent healthy and normal by then.

Either way, both seem to like what pitching for a contending Venezuelan team might mean for Rondon.

“Talking to him, he’s really excited about representing his country, which I think is cool,” Maddon said. “He’s ready to go. He’s in good shape to do that.

“I actually think him getting into that competition right now is going to be a good thing for him also. It’s one of those win-win situations.”

Because Rondon spent time on the disabled list last year, the Cubs had the right to keep him out of the WBC. Rondon and the team agreed if he was healthy and strong through the early part of camp, he could choose to join Venezuela after the first round.

“I’ve been feeling really good,” Rondon said. “In the offseason, I did a lifting program, and now I see it worked for me.

“The WBC is going to be special for me. I’m ready for it.”

The fourth WBC seems more special for the Venezuelans, who ramped up manager Omar Vizquel’s roster and talked openly about a stronger effort after perceived underachieving in previous tournaments.

“Everybody’s taking it serious [this time],” Rondon said of a Venezuelan team that was bounced in the first round of the last WBC in 2013. “The last two times they went, they were playing around. Now they want to win. It’s going to be special.”

Rondon was left smarting by the addition of Chapman at the trade deadline last year, which bumped the right-hander into a setup role. Then he had only a month during the offseason to believe he might have the closer’s job back before the Cubs traded for All-Star closer Wade Davis.

Rondon called the sequence “kind of weird,” but — as he did during the summer — he took the team-first high road when talking about what it meant to him.

“Conversationally, he’s wonderful,” Maddon said. “But I’m sure there might be just a part of him that might have been injured by that a little bit. However, I anticipate he’s going to be fine, and he’ll fit in with his new role well.”

Whether the WBC experience contributes to Rondon’s mindset and readiness for the Cubs’ repeat efforts, he acknowledged the bullpen might be the deepest of any he has been a part of. Chapman and Travis Wood are gone, but Koji Uehara also was added.

“Right now we have the Japanese guy and Davis, so it’s almost the same group but with more experience,” Rondon said. “It’s going to be huge for us.

“I don’t care, we don’t care what inning [we pitch]. We just prepare for doing our job and being healthy all year.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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