For now, the rehab road has ended for Jeremy Bonderman, who will be handed the ball on Monday night to make his first major league start in over a year.
That road started almost a year ago when Bonderman underwent two surgeries: one to remove a blood clot from his pitching shoulder and another to remove a rib to alleviate symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome.
Bonderman came into spring training this year attempting to claim a spot in the Tiger rotation, but wasn't healthy enough to continue. After some time off, after that bend in the trail, the rehab road continued.
After a stop in Grand Rapids, with the West Michigan Whitecaps (Low A, Midwest League), he progressed to Toledo to pitch for the Mud Hens (AAA, International League).
I actually had the pleasure of seeing him pitch for the Hens almost two weeks ago against the Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles).
In six innings he surrendered three runs, one on a home run and threw just short of 100 pitches. He had poise on the mound and was able to effectively pitch himself out of a jam.
For all the things he did have, he did not have his dominant fastball. I regularly kept my eye on the radar gun display on the scoreboard, and he regularly topped out at 89 mph, down from the 96 mph we are used to.
His next minor league start was even better, blanking the Charlotte Knights (Chicago White Sox) for eight innings. Still, his fastball had not returned.
At this point Bonderman doesn't know if his velocity will return, but we can all be hopeful. In spite of that, I think the outlook is promising on the one time Tiger ace. By not having his good fastball, Bonderman has relied more on his changeup to keep hitters off his fastball.
A good changeup is the pitch his arsenal has sorely lacked over the years. He still has the great, biting slider that he is using to put guys away with, as well.
Perhaps this rehab assignment and decreased velocity is just what Bonderman needed. Perhaps it will be what allows him to finish turning the corner and maturing into a smarter major league pitcher.
Bonderman will finally be wearing the old English "D" to the mound on Monday night, the second game of a day/night double header. His performance, and that of Dontrelle Willis in his next start, could determine any changes to be made in the Tiger rotation.
Regardless, the Tigers will have to make a transaction Monday to clear room on the 25-man roster for Bonderman.
Maybe the biggest transaction will be getting a healthy Bonderman pitching effectively. If so, his return would be as good a trade deadline acquisition.
Maybe Bonderman is the piece the Tigers need to keep winning.