Bonderman impressive in Tigers' win
Right-hander nails down first victory in nearly two years
DETROIT -- Jeremy Bonderman can remember having big days like this that probably don't seem so long ago. Ryan Perry has never had a day like this, which explains the adrenaline he was feeling.
What Bonderman was able to start for the Tigers on Saturday, Perry was able to finish. And the same 4-2 win over the Indians that made Bonderman look a little younger after a season and a half essentially on the shelf, made Perry seem all the more mature after barely a year in the big leagues.
"It's special that I could go out and get a 'W'. It's been two years," Bonderman said. "It's been a long journey back, but I'm hoping I've got 35 more good starts in me. Hopefully, we'll do something special."
It has the makings of a special start for the Tigers, who are racking up the wins against Cleveland and Kansas City that they struggled to find at times the previous three seasons. At 4-1, they're off to their best start since 2006, when they won their first five games on their way to an eventual World Series appearance.
That season came out of nowhere, but Bonderman's breakout that year was seemingly expected of him ever since he made the Tigers rotation in 2003. His shoulder surgery to correct a circulation problem in 2008 and the struggles to get back to this point basically erased expectations on what's left of his career.
Yet as he went about attacking Indians hitters with a splitter, the offspeed pitch he never had before he was hurt, he showed a side of pitching he never quite captured before.
"That was really Jeremy Bonderman the pitcher," manager Jim Leyland said, "not Jeremy Bonderman the 95-96-mph fastball, hard slider. He pitched, and that's the adjustment that he's going to have to make. We're tickled to death today. That's progress, and that's something you have to build on."
Or as Leyland said at another point, "That's really the best I've seen him pitch in a long time."
Despite a 92-mph fastball that suggests he's gaining velocity, Bonderman wasn't a power pitcher Saturday, yet he was a deceptive one. He struck out three of Cleveland's first four hitters, the veteran heart of its batting order, by working ahead with fastballs to set up sliders and splitters.
He allowed just two solidly hit balls his first time through the Indians' lineup, then came back around to strike out Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore a second time by letting them watch 92-mph fastballs on the corner.
"I was able to get guys looking for other stuff," Bonderman said.
By itself, the splitter wasn't a swing-and-miss pitch, though Travis Hafner went down on a checked swing at one leading off the second inning. In tandem with his other stuff, though, it had that kind of impact.
"We threw it sometimes first pitch, or when we were ahead in the count," catcher Alex Avila said. "We threw it a couple times behind in the count, but really the game plan was to get in a rhythm throwing strikes and just incorporate both the slider and the splitter."
Everything was working to perfection through 11 batters. Then Bonderman started off Shin-Soo Choo with back-to-back splitters that missed the corner. A 3-0 count and an eventual walk followed, then another 3-0 count for a Hafner single. Once Jhonny Peralta worked Bonderman for 12 pitches and another walk, he was struggling.
"I felt fine until Peralta wore me down," Bonderman said. "Until then, I felt great. I was rolling until that point."
A splitter in the dirt scored Choo, but Bonderman retired the last four batters he faced to get through five and get in line for his first Major League win since May 22, 2008.
Perry was still in college at that point, not that that's a long time ago for him. Bonderman, on the other hand, was on the disabled list when the Tigers drafted Perry, and on the DL again when Perry made the Major League roster out of Spring Training last year.
As Bonderman was wrapping up his effort, Perry was still sitting in the bullpen, a few innings away from his call. But with Jose Valverde, Joel Zumaya and Phil Coke all being rested Saturday, Perry knew his call would be coming in a save situation if they had the lead.
"Sixth inning on, I was anxious just sitting there," Perry said. "I've always wanted the opportunity to come in and try to get a save, see what I can do."
At age 23, it's a little sooner than most pitchers for a first chance at save, but Perry has long since defied age expectations. Once Fu-Te Ni hit back-to-back batters in the eighth, Perry was on for the save sooner than he would've expected Saturday, facing Peralta with two outs in the eighth.
He was about as energetic as everyone expected.
"Perry's always amped up for everything," Avila said. "I knew he was going to be throwing hard."
The difference is that it's harnessed energy.
"Especially coming in in the eighth, my heart's pounding a little," Perry said. "But I think my confidence has grown since last year, so I'm able to control it, keep my body in position to succeed, instead of just sporadically trying to throw the ball."
It was tested Saturday. Once he struck out Peralta on a nasty slider, he had to sit through the bottom of the eighth inning. He came back for the ninth and retired Cleveland in order, capped by a 98-mph fastball to pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena.
Perry got the game ball and the save. Bonderman got the win. The Tigers got another big step.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.