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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2003

Tigers tempted to keep rookie Bonderman

LAKELAND, Fla. - After three impressive spring training outings, the Jeremy Bonderman debate not only continues, the intensity grows.

Bonderman, the Detroit Tigers' 20-year-old right-hander, has great potential and deserves to open the season with the big-league club.

Or:

Is Bonderman good enough for the majors after just one year of Single-A ball? Good enough to - gulp - start?

Good move or bad? Go ahead, pick one.

With Bonderman, a case can be made that the Tigers' pitching staff needs a shot in the arm. If he has the talent, why not give him the chance?

Another school of thought is that few pitchers have made the successful leap from Single A to the majors. The last pitcher to do it was Dwight Gooden, who in 1984 set a rookie record with 276 strikeouts and finished 17-9 at age 19.

Yesterday Bonderman allowed one hit, along with his first run (unearned) and first walk of the spring. He also struck out six in four innings in Detroit's 5-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

It was Bonderman's first start after two relief appearances. In a total of nine innings he has allowed six hits and fanned 11. He's unquestionably been the Tigers' best pitcher so far.

Indeed, Bonderman is the best story of the Tiger camp.

“He's opening everybody's eyes. He's earned the look, is the best way I can put it,” said manager Alan Trammell.

“This is a special circumstance, just like any organization would have somebody like this that is young and the talk of the camp.

“The fact of the matter is, he was pretty darn good. Where does it go from now? He gets another start [Monday].”

Pitching is what the Tigers need, among other things, meaning Trammell will give Bonderman a close look.

Trammell is considering Bonderman, regardless of his youth, because he throws strikes, has a slider that reminds him of former big-league pitcher Dave Stieb, and is cool under fire.

If Bonderman continues at this pace? “He probably makes our team,” Trammell said.

The Tigers need surprises from some of their pitchers, since veteran Steve Sparks, the team's top returning starter, has been ineffective this spring.

Bonderman, who was 9-8 with a 3.61 ERA for Single-A Modesto last season, was the unlikeliest candidate to make the Tigers' roster.

The player to be named in the Jeff Weaver trade from 2002, Bonderman, though, is forcing Trammell to play his hand sooner than anticipated.

“I think I'm really making it tough for them. Every time they think about it, I want to put a question mark in the back of their minds, how good I'm doing,” Bonderman said. “I feel like I can go out and show that I can pitch in the big leagues.”

Trammell promises to tread lightly, of course. He pointed out yesterday that Bonderman must develop a change-up to complement his fastball and slider, that the kid needs more than two pitches to be successful in the majors.

“It's a story we're all looking at. We just have to be guarded,” Trammell said. “Believe me, I enjoy talking about him like everybody else. We just want to do what's right.”



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