By Ryan Divish Staff Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. — If Jeremy Bonderman doesn’t make the Seattle Mariners’ starting rotation out of spring training, it won’t be because he isn’t healthy. And it won’t be because he isn’t pitching well. It will be because the Mariners simply want to go with a different option.
On Friday, Bonderman showed the Mariners and a dozen scouts in attendance that he’s a legitimate candidate for one a spot in Seattle’s starting rotation — or someone else’s rotation if need be.
Bonderman threw four innings, giving up two runs on five hits in Seattle’s 8-5 Cactus League victory over the Los Angeles Angels. He struck out two and didn’t walk a batter.
While they weren’t shutout innings, Bonderman was solid. His fastball was 90-92 mph and he used his slider and splitfinger fastball on several occasions. More importantly, six of his nine outs came on ground balls, and three of the five hits he allowed were ground balls.
“I was just trying to stay down and use the bottom part of the strike zone and make them swing the bat,” Bonderman said. “I really only made one mistake — the double.”
That came in the second inning. Bonderman gave up a lead-off groundball single to Vernon Wells and then left a pitch up in the strike zone that Chris Iannetta hit into the left-center gap to drive in Wells. Iannetta eventually scored on a sacrifice bunt and a fielder’s choice.
Bonderman gave up one-out hits in the third and fourth innings and quickly erased each runner by coaxing ground balls for double plays from the subsequent hitters, including slugger Josh Hamilton.
It’s all starting to come back to Bonderman after an almost three-year layoff. He last pitched in a major-league game in July of 2010.
“My breaking ball has gotten a lot sharper and a lot better, the location has gotten better,” he said. “Overall, I’m just getting that feeling back and making adjustments on the fly.”
Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge was pleased with what he saw.
“He was putting the ball on the ground all day,” Wedge said. “He had a nice slider working. He was throwing it for a strike and toward the end he was able to sweep it off the plate with two strikes. He’s throwing a heavy ball up there, and he was down. He threw the ball very well.”
And there hasn’t been a single issue with Bonderman’s arm. His surgically repaired elbow is fine and the troublesome shoulder that interrupted his career at age 28 hasn’t been an issue.
“I feel good,” he said. “I don’t hurt at all. I’m not sore. There’s no reason to doubt how my arm is feeling as of right now. If it stays the same way, it will be good.”
Bonderman is in an odd situation. After being out of baseball for almost three years, he needs to continue to work on his secondary pitches and his command. That’s what spring training is for. But he also can’t go out there and not have productive outings. He’s a non-roster invitee. To make the team, he not only has to prove he’s healthy and has the arm strength, but that he can get outs.
“I’m still taking opportunities to try stuff out and work on stuff,” he said “But obviously I need results. It’s not like when you know you are on the team for sure, and you can go out there and really work on stuff.”
If Bonderman wasn’t legitimately in the discussion for a spot in the starting rotation before, he is now. Both he and Jon Garland — another injury reclamation signing — have established themselves as viable candidates for the rotation along with holdovers Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan, and youngster Brandon Maurer.
The Mariners made more roster moves on Friday morning. Third baseman Alex Liddi, who just returned from playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, was optioned to Class AAA Tacoma. Infielder Stefen Romero and catchers John Hicks and Ronny Paulino were re-assigned to minor-league camp. … Single-game tickets for the Mariners’ 2013 season go on sale at 10 a.m. today. Tickets will be available without a service charge at the Safeco Field box office and the Seattle Mariners team stores. Tickets also will be available online at www.mariners.com.