Armando Galarraga seemingly put to rest any thoughts that he was about to lose his spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation yesterday. After a rough first inning, he settled in and pitched very well. He pitched into the seventh inning, and left with lead, as Detroit bested Chicago 5-4 in the opener of a day-night doubleheader, and the start of a five game series with the White Sox. He was very good after his 33 pitch first frame, allowing only a homerun to noted Tiger-killer Jermaine Dye thereafter.
In the nightcap, Jeremy Bonderman made his first start in the major leagues in over a year. His stuff was underwhelming, his location was poor, and the results were unimpressive. Granted, he was starting in Chicago against the Sox, so you had to figure that homeruns could be a problem for any pitcher in that spot, and I’m sure nerves were a factor. That being said, I was not at all encouraged by what I saw.
Bonderman no longer possesses the great fastball and power slider he used to, those have been replaced by versions 5-6 MPH slower. He did feature a changeup, but he lacked command with it and the differential between that pitch and his fastball was only about 5 MPH, which is not ideal.
All six of Chicago’s runs last night were charged to Bonderman, I had the feeling that it could have been worse. Bonderman has a long history of first-inning struggles, but last night he wasn’t unlucky in that frame, he was bad. From the first hitter of the game, it felt like he was in trouble. The outs he recorded were on hard hit balls, he wasn’t fooling anybody. Things never really improved.
Dontrelle Willis will get another chance to keep his rotation spot tonight, as he tries to bounce back from a poor performance last week versus Boston. In that start, Willis managed to yield five earned runs without allowing a hit, or making it out of the third inning.
When I watched Bonderman last night, I tried to compare his outing to what I saw from Dontrelle in his first start against the Twins last month. The finals numbers aren’t far apart, but the feeling I took from each drastically differed. Bonderman threw 4+ innings, allowing eight hits, three walks, and six runs, with one strikeout. He gave up three homeruns. Willis, on May 13, went 4.2 innings, allowing eight hits, two walks, and four runs. He allowed one homerun, and was without a strikeout. Four of Bonderman’s eight hits allowed went for extra bases, while only two of Willis’ did.
As I wrote at the time, Willis looked like a pitcher with a plan and a purpose to each pitch. His stuff was there, but his command within the zone was not. But I could see that the talent had not eroded, it just needed to be harnessed. Conversely, last night Bonderman looked like a pitcher who was trying to pitch like he still had the stuff to blow past hitters. His once electric arm is gone, at least for now, and he was unable to make the adjustments that were necessary.
By no means am I calling this race over. Willis has been inconsistent at best, but did show promise in one start. Perhaps Bonderman can build on his effort last night and pitch better going forward. But Willis is getting his chance to keep his job tonight. If he pitches well and shows results, the job is likely his to keep. Bonderman’s effort last night has put Willis in the driver’s seat.
Bonderman can now only watch, his work is done. He may get one more start, as perhaps the first can be chalked up to nerves. Maybe, he will move to the bullpen, or accept a minor league assignment. But the impression that I got is that Bonderman wasn’t ready. And I am not confident he will be soon.