Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman has been hampered by injuries since 2008, but has been working out on his own at his home in Pasco.
Jeremy Bonderman says his two-year break from pitching in the majors has done him some good.
The longtime Pasco resident signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners on Friday and will come to spring training looking to win a job in the team’s starting rotation. He’s throwing again after undergoing “Tommy John” ligament transplant surgery in April, dropping 30 pounds by changing his diet and no longer feeling burned out by baseball like he once did.
“I just thought it would be a good idea to give it one last shot,” Bonderman, 30, a longtime Detroit Tigers starter and former first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics, said by phone after agreeing to the deal.
The Mariners were one of a handful of teams to express interest in Bonderman, and their proximity to his home, where he’s helping raise two children, ages 6 and 3, made it a good fit. Nobody came to see Bonderman throw before the deal, though he’s been doing so for several months in a “shop” he built for himself in a steel hangar-type of building near his home.
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Bonderman installed a mound in the building and soon tried his first in a series of awkward post-surgery throws he remembers well.
“It was kind of weird,” he said. “I had no idea what to expect.”
It took him a while to get comfortable throwing again. But soon, he was convinced his comeback could resume at the big-league level.
He’s been working out six days a week, dropping his oldest child off at school and then hitting the gym for several hours. The potato chips and soda he used to enjoy are now out of his home and he no longer eats late-night meals.
He has dropped 30 pounds to roughly 215, the same weight he came out of Pasco High School and was drafted by the A’s in 2001. Bonderman made his big-league debut at age 20, was the opening-day starter for the Tigers by 2005 and went 14-8 with a 4.08 earned-run average over 214 innings with Detroit during their run to the World Series in 2006.
He got off to a fast start in 2007 after signing a four-year, $38 million deal, but won just four games in the second half. He missed most of 2008 with a blood clot, made just one start in 2009 before a shoulder injury sidelined him, then had a 5.53 ERA in 2010.
Bonderman had openly mused about retirement in 2010, saying he was burned out by too many injury rehabilitations and struggles. He says he then blew out his elbow working out that winter in hopes of signing with Cleveland and lost his chance when the extent of the damage was discovered.
That was when Bonderman decided to take a year off. It was several months later he realized he still had the desire to play again, so he had the surgery in April to fix the elbow and see whether he could still throw.
“My kids are getting a kick out of seeing their dad go through this,” Bonderman said.
He’ll leave the Tri-Cities for Peoria, Ariz., to train at the team’s complex about five weeks before spring training.
The Mariners have a vacancy in their rotation after this week’s trade that sent Jason Vargas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales. Rumors persist that the Mariners are looking to acquire more pitching, possibly Rick Porcello of the Tigers — a former Bonderman teammate.
Bonderman says he didn’t try any career outside of baseball during his time away and isn’t sure what he’ll do next if this comeback falls short.
“I guess I’ll have to find something else to do eventually,” he said.
For now, though, he’s sure this is still what he wants to be doing.