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Published: Sunday, 3/23/2003

Tigers will give youngsters a try

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Detroit's starting lineup is about to get younger. Much younger.

After the Tigers got roughed up 10-3 yesterday by the Cleveland Indians, manager Alan Trammell announced that rookie right-hander Jeremy Bonderman (20 years old) would be his No. 2 starter in the regular season and shortstop Omar Infante (21) and second baseman Ramon Santiago (23) would form his double-play combination.

That leaves veteran second baseman Damion Easley (33) as the odd man out.

“We want to get this organization going in the right direction, so we're trying something different,” Trammell said.

Ironically, he said he made the decision to tab Bonderman - 9-9 with a 3.79 ERA last year at the Single-A level - his No. 2 starter before yesterday's game.

Bonderman then went out and had his worst outing of the spring. He allowed nine hits, eight runs and four homers in four innings against the Indians.

Cleveland's Milton Bradley homered twice off Bonderman, while Karim Garcia and Matt Lawton hit one each.

“He got roughed up a little bit today, but I don't care,” Trammell said. “We're going to stick with what we think is right. He's earned it. We think he can handle this. I'm going to stick with my decision.”

Bonderman, who will make his major league debut April 2 at home against the Minnesota Twins, joins Opening Day starter Mike Maroth (6-10, 4.48 ERA in 2002) and No. 3 Adam Bernero in the rotation. Nate Cornejo is likely to nail down one of the final two spots, Trammell said.

Trammell admitted his decision to take Bonderman - the player to be named later in the deal that sent Jeff Weaver to the Yankees last season - north with the Tigers is not without risk. But he pointed out: “He still has good arm strength and I think he can get major league hitters out.”

Trammell once formed a young double-play combination with Lou Whitaker that helped turn Detroit into a winning franchise in the late 1970s and early '80s. Now it appears he'll try to recapture that magic by going with youngsters Infante and Santiago, both of whom had stints with the Mud Hens last season.

“That's what we're going with to start with,” Trammell said. “For how long, how many games, there's no reason to even ask. I don't have any idea. We'll just go as long as we possibly can with them. If they're going about their business and getting the job done, they'll play the majority of the time.

“I like their enthusiasm. How they'll handle it, I don't know. Just like myself and Lou a few years ago, we were given an opportunity and we kept our heads above water and got better. We'll see what happens with these guys.”

Trammell's not sure what's next for Easley, a teammate of his in 1996. Trammell hinted that Easley, guaranteed $6.5 million in each of the next two seasons, plus $1.3 million of an $8 million team option for 2005, might not even make Detroit's 25-man roster.

“Damion was quite classy as you would expect after I told him of my decision this morning,” Trammell said. “I'm sure he's very disappointed and very hurt. To his credit, he went out today, even after I told him, and took ground balls at second, short and third. That tells you something about him.

“Will he be here when the regular season opens? I can't answer that. We haven't decided yet. But somebody's going to have to be moved.”



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