Jeremy Bonderman can't go the distance against Royals, showing his limits
Bonderman allowed seven runs on 11 hits in 5-1/3 innings for the Mariners in an 11-6 loss to Kansas City.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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PEORIA, Ariz. — Mariners nonroster candidate Jeremy Bonderman had little idea what to expect two months ago when he arrived here to resume a pitching career abandoned after the 2010 season.
And having lasted this long in the team's rotation battle, Bonderman, 30, still has no idea where he'll make his next start. The only thing the Pasco resident is certain about following his final Cactus League outing Tuesday is that he still has what it takes to compete.
But if his comeback is to continue beyond Tuesday's 11-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals, Bonderman will have to show he can compete a little bit longer in games. Bonderman hit the proverbial wall in the fifth and sixth innings and likely settled any question of whether he needs more seasoning in Class AAA.
"I was definitely tired," Bonderman said. "I definitely had some fatigue. It wasn't the best stuff I've had. It definitely wasn't what I was hoping for.
"I was rolling along pretty good, and then I got smacked in the mouth."
By the time he was done, he'd given up seven runs on 11 hits in 5-1/3 innings. And while Mariners manager Eric Wedge wasn't prepared to say it out loud, he gave every indication postgame that he'd like Bonderman to continue to work in AAA to get his arm strength where it needs to be.
"We'll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there," Wedge said. "But ultimately, it's a unique situation. What we're trying to do is put everybody in the best position to succeed and the best position this year — whether it be right away or at some point in time later."
Wedge said he is "real close" to naming his starting rotation, but wants to talk it over with pitchers and coaches first. Barring a trade, the team will almost certainly go with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Blake Beavan and Class AA prospect Brandon Maurer as their starting five.
After using just 47 pitches the first four innings on Tuesday, Bonderman had to throw 30 more just to make it out of a six-run fifth inning. He gave up seven hits, three of them doubles and one a triple.
Just as telling, the two-seam fastball he'd been throwing at 90-93 mph the first few innings had dipped to about 87-88 mph by the fifth. The Mariners still sent Bonderman out for the sixth to see what he had left before reaching his allotment of 90 pitches.
And the answer they got: not much.
Bonderman's two-seamer was in the mid-80s that inning and his slider had dropped from 83 mph earlier to 77 mph. He got one out, then had Brett Hayes 0-2 in the count and could not put him away. Hayes extended the at-bat to eight pitches before hitting a line-drive single to left on Bonderman's 89th and final pitch of the day.
"I was tired," Bonderman said.
He admitted it's the first time all spring he's felt that way.
The Mariners had wanted to see Bonderman get some extended work in before making their final decisions on the rotation. Bonderman hadn't made a Cactus League start since going four innings against the Angels in a March 15 start, though he did toss five innings in a minor-league outing five days later.
"He's still getting to territories where he hasn't really been yet," Wedge said. "We're talking about pitch counts and getting deep into games. It was important for him to come back in, at least go back out there that last inning to push himself along. He's had a good camp, he's come a long way from the way he was throwing the ball earlier in camp. What we saw, especially earlier on today — it was a considerable difference."
But for Bonderman to make a case for his arm — having thrown a high of 78 pitches in that minor-league outing — he had to get up to 90 pitches against major-league caliber opponents without a drop-off. Team sources say concern over arm strength and durability is what led the Mariners to pass on offering a roster spot to Jon Garland last week before he exercised his "out" clause and signed with Colorado.
Garland had thrown six innings of two-run ball against the Cubs the night before the Mariners granted his request to be released. Despite the solid stats that night, sources say, there was concern that Garland had thrown a plethora of breaking balls and off-speed pitches instead of the sinking and cut fastballs he usually has success with.
Team officials worried the lack of fastballs was an indication Garland might be hesitant to unleash pitches full-throttle because of fatigue or lingering issues from shoulder problems two years ago. In the end, they'd have preferred to see him make additional starts before committing but could not because of his contract's early "out" clause.
Similar concerns about a lack of arm strength are why team sources privately say Erasmo Ramirez will open the season in Class AAA, where he can build his arm up as a starter. Ramirez is to throw between 55 and 60 pitches in a minor-league game on Wednesday, but will not have the needed endurance to start games in the majors for a while.
Nor does Bonderman, who has yet to decide whether he'll join Ramirez in AAA if asked.
"I haven't really thought about it, to be honest with you," Bonderman said. "I feel good. I think I've proven to myself that I can pitch at this level again."
But he'll now have to wait and see when that next chance comes.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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