Bonderman trying to latch on with Mariners
Right-hander, 30, hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2010 with Tigers
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jeremy Bonderman understands his situation. He's a pitcher who hasn't thrown in a Major League game in nearly three years, a guy with a lot of mileage on his right arm and a 30-year-old veteran trying to win a job on a team with a ton of young pitching prospects.
But Bonderman is also a competitor, a man with World Series experience who understands what it takes to be a big leaguer, and a proven starter with a desire to write a better ending to his career than the one currently scripted.
The former Tigers starter is in Mariners camp on a Minor League deal, a non-roster invitee given a chance to show what he can do as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. The elbow had bothered Bonderman for years, though it was the lesser of his concerns after dealing with thoracic outlet compression syndrome in his right chest that wiped out much of his 2008 and '09 seasons.
"I'm taking it as a second chance," Bonderman said while sitting at his locker in the Mariners' clubhouse prior to Tuesday's workout. "For me, I want to go out on my own terms. I don't know what's going to happen here, but if I prove myself healthy, they'll either say, 'You're on the team,' or, 'Hey, you're not good enough.' It is what it is."
As a native of Richland, Wash., Bonderman figured the Mariners were the perfect team to resurrect his career after rehabbing his arm and elbow the past two years at his home in eastern Washington.
Bonderman has thrown fairly well in his initial bullpen sessions this spring, but knows the real test will come when games begin.
"I'm just trying to get better every time and be more consistent," Bonderman said. "It's been a couple years, so I'm just trying to get the rhythm down and get the tempo. My first bullpen wasn't the greatest, but my last two have been really good. Bullpens aren't everything. Hitters will let you know."
Bonderman will throw his first live batting practice session on Wednesday, then be ready for game action when the Cactus League season opens Friday. He acknowledges he's still kicking the rust off, but the most important thing for Bonderman is throwing free and easy and without pain for the first time in years. He underwent Tommy John surgery in April after the elbow continued bothering him despite not pitching since 2010, when he went 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA in 30 games with the Tigers.
"It feels amazing," Bonderman said. "Quite honestly, I'd have gotten it fixed a long time ago if I'd known it would feel this good. I had the surgery in April, so it's only been nine months. But after about six weeks, I didn't have any pain anymore and had a full range of motion.
"So then it was just a matter of strengthening it back up. I didn't have knots like a lot of guys get. I've been very fortunate to not have any scar tissue pop or anything. I was lucky, knock on wood, for one time in my life."
Bonderman wasn't so fortunate in 2007 when he was pitching against the Mariners at Safeco Field and began feeling a pain in his upper chest.
"It hurt so bad the whole game, but I kept pitching," Bonderman said. "I thought it was something that would just go away, but it swelled up and swelled up, and I ended up in the hospital."
He was finally diagnosed with the thoracic outlet syndrome, which is a pinching of arteries and nerves in the chest cavity that eventually led to clotting and left Bonderman in intensive care for two days. He says a nerve running down his back was damaged in the surgery and he wound up not pitching for a year and a half.
"There wasn't a whole lot I could do about it. I just had to wait and see," Bonderman said. "So I finally feel healthy for the first time since '07. And even then I had elbow problems and was on the shelf a little while. It was always something. So I'm just excited to be healthy."
The Mariners will see how Bonderman fares when thrown into action this spring. They'll need to see not only how well he throws, but how well his arm responds and recovers afterward.
As a guy who has eight years of Major League experience with the Tigers and was a 14-game winner in 2005 and '06, would he go to the Minors to start the season if he doesn't make the initial 25-man roster?
"I don't know," Bonderman said. "I probably would for a little bit if I was all over the place and they told me I had to tighten it up. I'd go down there for a little bit. But I'm definitely not going to be a career guy down there."
That's not the final chapter Bonderman wants to write. But for now, he's just seeing how things play out after coming down to Arizona several weeks ahead of time to begin his comeback attempt.
"That definitely helped, being a head start for me," Bonderman said. "There are a lot of young guys here who are fresh and feeling good. I'm just trying to get my feet under me.
"I feel I'm ready. Now it's a matter of how I pitch. This is a game about results. If I do well, I'll be fine. If I don't, I'll find my way out of here."