Detroit — There was a time not too long ago when Jeremy Bonderman was the Opening Day starter. Now he’s a 27-year-old veteran on the youngest rotation in the majors trying to keep his job.
Saturday, Bonderman won his first game since May 22, 2008, against the Seattle Mariners. He allowed the Indians one run on one hit in five innings, walking two and striking out five in the 4-2 victory.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be, but once I got on the mound and threw the first pitch, it was like any other game,” Bonderman said. “You just go out there and make your pitches and try and focus on the next one.
“It was just good to get the win for the team. We’re playing well. Guys are playing defense and are scoring runs and getting on base quite a bit. It’s been fun so far.”
It hasn’t been a lot of fun for Bonderman the last year and a half. He underwent thoracic outlet compression syndrome surgery in June 2008 and has had to fight for this comeback.
Longtime teammate Ramon Santiago didn’t play Saturday but watched Bonderman’s start closely.
“I know he’s been frustrated the last couple years because he was rehabbing and coming back,” Santiago said. “It was hard surgery, but I think today he showed he’s healthy and he feels good.
“When he’s healthy, he’s a great pitcher. He’s got three good pitches. He’s got a slider, a splitter and good sinker, so I think he’s going to make a lot of outs.”
Bonderman was the picture of efficiency through the first three innings, setting the Indians down in order. In the fourth, he got two quick strikeouts, then walked Shin-Soo Choo before giving up a single to Travis Hafner. Jhonny Peralta then came up and worked a walk in a lengthy at-bat that helped drive up Bonderman’s pitch count. One run scored on a wild pitch.
But Bonderman came back and threw a perfect fifth before leaving the game in the hands of reliever Brad Thomas.
“That one at-bat with Peralta just wore me down,” Bonderman said. “I threw I don’t know how many pitches to the guy and he just kept fouling balls off, taking pitches.
“It was just a good battle and he won. I shouldn’t have walked Choo and kind of got myself in trouble. That’s what happens when you walk guys with two outs. I just wanted to go back out in the fifth and get quick outs and get us back in the dugout.”
Manager Jim Leyland was generally pleased with what he saw.
“That’s really the best I’ve seen him pitch in a long time,” Leyland said. “He used his third pitch today, which was very good, threw some good sliders. The one at-bat against Peralta really exhausted him, so we had to be careful there and get him out of there. He did very well.”
Bonderman won 14 games in both 2005, the year he started Opening Day, and 2006. He won a rotation spot in spring training this year and wants to show now that he deserves to keep it.
“I see myself as another guy,” Bonderman said. “I’m not the ace of the staff. That’s not even a question of who is. Everyone knows who that is. I’m just trying to be another guy on the team. I’m just trying to do my part every fifth day and keep us in position to win every game I can and do what I can do to make myself better.”
Bonderman said he’s not taking anything for granted now that he’s healthy.
“I appreciate it, it’s been a long road here,” he said. “It was fun just getting back on the mound and playing, to be who I am and compete and not have to know that my arm is hurting. I just go out there and I’m free. I can throw anything I want and my arm feels good. That’s the stuff I look for right now. Today I felt good and tomorrow I know I’m going to feel good. I’m not worried about how I’m going to feel the next day.
“It’s special to get back out there and get a ‘W.’ It’s been two years. It’s been a long journey back but I’m hoping I’ve got 35 more good starts in me. Hopefully, we can do something special.”