By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — The competitor in Jeremy Bonderman wouldn’t let him celebrate his accomplishment.
After being out of baseball for almost three years, the simple fact that he walked to the mound at Peoria Stadium and started for the Seattle Mariners in Monday’s Cactus League game against the Los Angeles Angels is a feat that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But giving up a three-run homer has a way of souring the mood of any pitcher.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted it to go,” Bonderman said. “But it was good to get out there and get my feet wet again.”
Bonderman’s one inning of work had a little bit of everything. He allowed a lead-off single to Mike Trout. He threw a nice slider to get Erick Aybar to ground out weakly to third. But faulty command with the slider got him behind to Peter Bourjos, who walked.
With runners on first and second and one out, Bonderman made a tough pitch — a fastball on the hands — to Chris Iannetta, getting him to pop up softly to second.
It looked as though Bonderman might get out of the inning without allowing a run. But that changed with one bad pitch. He hung a 1-1 slider to Hank Conger, who blasted it into right field for a three-run homer.
“I hung a breaking ball plain and simple,” Bonderman said. “It only takes one pitch to ruin everything.”
Bonderman retired Kole Calhoun on a fly ball to left field to end his outing.
“It’s good to get the first one out of the way, but there are no excuses,” Bonderman said. “You have to go out and get outs.”
Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge was a little more upbeat than Bonderman.
“I thought he looked good,” Wedge said. “I was impressed with what we saw. Again, we don’t really get too caught up in the scorecard.”
What Wedge and his staff get caught up in is how Bonderman looks in his delivery, whether it’s natural and not forced.
“We talk about the way the ball was coming out of his hand,” Wedge said. “He wasn’t really catching up with his breaking ball. That’s something you expect to come a little later, usually the secondary stuff, particularly the breaking stuff.”
They also want to see how he feels after the start. Bonderman expects to be fine.
“My arm feels good,” he said. “I’m 100 percent healthy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve done that before and it isn’t fun.”
And he’s been to enough spring trainings to know that this one outing isn’t going to determine his future.
“It was definitely not the results I was looking for, but I’m going to keep working,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my next opportunity.”
For a long time, Bonderman never thought there would be a next opportunity. Arm issues destroyed his promising career with the Detroit Tigers. Bonderman’s problems started in 2008 when doctors discovered a blood clot in his right shoulder 12 starts into the season. Bonderman had surgery and missed the rest of the season.
He came back in 2009 and made one start but was shut down with more pain in the shoulder. After the 2010 season, Bonderman became a free agent. He suffered an elbow injury during offseason workouts and opted to retire at age 28.
“I thought I was done in 2010,” he said. “I hadn’t planned on playing again.”
But he decided to give baseball another chance, and underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament last April.
“I know what I can do if I was healthy,” he said. “Once I finally got healthy, I wanted to give it one more shot.”
The Mariners signed him to a minor-league contract to give him a shot — albeit a long one — to make the team.
“When I decided to come back, it wasn’t, ‘oh I’m just going to give this a shot and we’ll see,’” said Bonderman, a native of Pasco. “I worked hard and put my time in every day. I’m down here for the long haul. If at the end of the camp, they tell me they don’t want me, then I will go home.”
Bonderman’s wife, Amber, and his 3-year-old son, Tripp, flew down to Arizona on Sunday and were in the stands on Monday.
“It’s the first time he’s seen me pitch,” Bonderman said of his son. “He was an infant the last time.”
Will Tripp see his father pitch in the big leagues this year? It’s possible. If there were odds, Bonderman would be a long shot. Maybe it will be with the Mariners. Maybe it will be with another team. But he’s proven something to himself in the process.
“At least I will go out on my own terms,” he said. “I didn’t just walk away because I was hurt. I went back out there.”