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Published: Wednesday, 9/30/2009

Leyland planning for next season

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

While the focus of the Tigers is on the current season, Detroit manager Jim Leyland showed Monday that he also is looking ahead to next year.

Before Detroit's big four-game series with Minnesota began, Leyland said that RHP Jeremy Bonderman is in the team's plans for next season - as a starter.

"From what I've seen, and from what I feel from the conversations I've had with him, I see no reason why he won't be in the rotation next year," Leyland said. "Now that's if he progresses, if his arm feels good and he's healthy."

The 26-year-old Bonderman took a regular turn in the Tigers' rotation from 2003-07 and was 56-62, including back-to-back 14-win seasons in 2005 and '06.

Last year, he missed the last four months of the season because of surgery to correct thoracic outlet compression syndrome. His recovery was slow this spring; he made three starts for the Mud Hens in late May before making a start for the Tigers in Chicago June 8.

Bonderman went back to the DL after that start, then pitched in relief for the Hens in August before rejoining the Tigers when rosters expanded in September.

He has made six appearances out of the bullpen for Detroit - the first six of his major-league career - and Leyland said he has factored Bonderman's unfamiliarity with working in relief into his analysis of the right-hander's progress.

"It's not easy for him to be in the bullpen, not knowing when he's going in," Leyland said of Bonderman. "I think he's better if he has a plan and can throw between starts. If he gets on a regular routine, it will be better for him.

"We haven't been able to do that up here, so he's probably not really comfortable - and that's why I haven't expected a lot. But if his arm is healthy, he could be in the starting rotation [next year]."

YOUNG GUN: RHP Rick Porcello threw a career-high 111 pitches in yesterday's afternoon game against Minnesota. The Tigers have been cautious with the 20-year-old, limiting his innings and pitches all season long.

Lately Porcello has been allowed to pitch longer in games. Before his Aug. 28 start against Tampa Bay, Porcello had not thrown more than 98 pitches in a start.

The right-hander threw 104 against the Rays that day, and he also threw more than 100 pitches against Toronto and Minnesota in back-to-back starts Sept. 13-18.

"He's a special individual," Leyland said of Porcello Monday. "If he pitches good, they'll talk about how amazing he is. If he doesn't pitch good, they'll talk about how young he is."

ROTATION QUESTIONS: Monday's rainout will have an impact on the Tigers' rotation should their weekend games prove critical to their playoff chances.

Porcello originally was scheduled to start Saturday against the White Sox. But with Monday's rainout, he would be forced to pitch with just three days rest rather than the traditional four days if he were to make that start.

Leyland said he knows who will pitch Saturday's game but did not wish to reveal the name yet.

If the games still matter for the playoff chase, RHP Edwin Jackson will start Friday versus the White Sox, and it's assumed that Justin Verlander would take the mound for Sunday's contest.

If the Tigers clinch the division title, fill-ins will be used to set the Tigers' rotation for a playoff meeting with the New York Yankees.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS: Certainly there are some unfamiliar faces in major-league clubhouses at this time of the year. But who is the Tiger named "Heliport" in the far corner of the Tiger clubhouse?

Actually, the corner locker serves as a home for remote-controlled toys - including some helicopters - which Detroit players "play" with during their free time.



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