Jeremy Bonderman stepped onto the mound and took a quick look around at Target Field.
After three years, multiple surgeries to his throwing arm and a premature retirement from the game that led to thoughts of self-doubt and regret, the Pasco grad was finally back in major league baseball.
He toed the rubber and fired a first pitch strike to Minnesota Twins lead-off hitter Eduardo Escobar. Moments later he struck out Escobar swinging. Then Bonderman retired Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham for a 1-2-3 inning. It would be the best moment of his day.
There would be no happy ending for Bonderman or the Mariners. The sentimental script soured quickly. Bonderman was pounded by Twins hitters over the next four innings, giving up seven runs on nine hits and the Mariners were pummeled 10-0 to wrap up the road trip.
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“It was a lot of fun to walk out there and get back on the field and try to help the team win,” Bonderman said. “But obviously you have to pitch better than that.”
So what went wrong in his return?
“I just thought he was up,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “When we saw him this spring, when he missed, he missed down or he missed in or out. Today he was missing up and over. They hit a couple good pitches and did a nice job. They’ve got some guys heading the right direction swinging the bat, but where he got in trouble was just leaving pitches up and over.”
The sure sign that Bonderman’s pitches were up in the strike zone were the types of hits the Twins were getting. Of the nine hits that Bonderman surrendered, seven went for extra bases – four doubles, a triple and three homers.
“I just made some mistakes and left some balls up, obviously at this level you can't do it,” he said. “It wasn't a very good day.”
Fellow Washington native Ryan Doumit, who hails from Moses Lake, continued to terrorize the Mariners (24-33), crushing a solo homer to left field to start the second inning. Two more RBI doubles in the inning from Brian Dozier and Aaron Hicks pushed the lead to 3-0.
Bonderman worked a scoreless third inning, but gave up another solo homer to start the fourth inning as Chris Herrmann deposited a ball in the left field stands. Minnesota added another run following a Hicks’ triple and a sacrifice fly from Pedro Florimon to make it 5-0.
The Twins knocked Bonderman out in the fifth inning. Josh Willingham clubbed a two run homer and Herrmann’s two-out single later in the inning ended Bonderman’s day after 4 2/3 innings.
“My fastball was up at times,” Bonderman said. “You get when beat when your fastball is up. That was the biggest thing. I just need to keep the ball down. My game is ground balls. If you can't keep the ball down, you are going to get hurt.”
The type of outing that Bonderman had on Sunday was reminiscient of the pitcher he replaced in the starting rotation, Brandon Maurer. The Mariners sent the rookie back to Triple A Tacoma because of his inconsistent outings. But Wedge isn’t going to ship out Bonderman after just one start.
“He just has to go out there and take what he learned from this and make the adjustments and have a good work day,” Wedge said. “He can’t let this one beat him up. It’s his first time back in a while and that’s significant, too. Have some good work days and go out there and just be better next time.”
Wedge hopes that a few days with pitching coach Carl Willis can clear up some problems.
“We’ve got a lot to work off of today,” Wedge said. “There’s plenty of conversations to be had here in the next couple days before he gets back on the mound and throws his side. You’ve got more to look at and work off of. Obviously we have the benefit of having seen him all spring and have a pretty good idea of what he needs to do to be successful.”
Bonderman’s replacement Hector Noesi, another possible candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, was unimpressive in 2 1/3 innings of work giving up three runs seven innings.
The Mariners did little offensively against Twins starter Scott Diamond. They had three of their five hits in a first inning that resulted in no runs. It hurt when Michael Saunders led off the game with a sharp single and was promptly doubled off of first on JasonBay’s stinging line drive.
“We came out great in the first inning,” Wedge said. “We couldn’t have done any better than the way we hit the ball in the first. We made the mistake of getting picked off there, but came out swinging the bats well and didn’t have anything to show for it. Then he settled in. I feel like we had a lot of hard outs today, but were never able to get anything going.”
Diamond pitched six innings giving up just four hits and striking out three with one walk.
“I think as a whole, guys hit the ball pretty hard today,” Raul Ibanez said. “A lot of guys barreled up some balls, and there were some good at-bats in there, but he kept the ball out of the middle of the plate.”
The Mariners return home to Seattle for a 10-day, 10-game homestand. Bonderman would be scheduled to pitch on Friday against the New York Yankees.
Bonderman is looking forward to his next start in his return, since he didn’t allow himself to believe there’d be a first start.
“I never knew if I'd ever get back,” he said. “I just wanted to work hard and leave it all out there so I didn't have anything to be disappointed in, or to look back and say I could've done this or I could've done that. I just appreciated being out on that field again. It's not something you can take for granted. You just have to find a way to be better.”