July 2007 was the pinnacle of Jeremy Bonderman's career. It's a tough pill to swallow considering he is only 27 and should be in the prime of his career still. He won't turn 28 until late in the postseason this year.
July 19, 2007. Bonderman was 10-1 with a 3.53ERA in 18 starts. He had struck out 109 in 119.2 innings of work.
This had come on the heals of his breakout 2006 season. 14-8, 214 innings pitched, 202Ks, 4.08ERA.
Those 202 strikeouts were second in the American League only to the Cy Young award winner, Johan Santana, then with the Twins.
Bonderman had it all going for him; everything was finally coming together. The budding ace the Tigers had seen years earlier was in full bloom.
He had a 95 mph+ fastball and the nastiest of sliders. The slider couldn't be hit and the fastball would blow you away.
It was right around this time in July of 2007 that his flower began to wilt. Bonderman would go 1-8 the rest of the season, shut down in early September with recurring elbow discomfort that had robbed him of a career season.
His strikeout rate fell, his ERA ballooned to over five.
Both 2008 and 2009 were lost seasons. Surgery and removal of a rib would eventually alleviate his symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome.
And Bonderman would never be the same pitcher again.
His velocity is gone. His fastball clocks in at 91-92 mph these days. Extremely hittable. His slider doesn't have the same bite it once did.
Changeup? Splitter? Oh yeah, about those.
Bondo was always a two-pitch guy when he was a power pitcher. Fastball/slider was all you would ever see from him.
Sure, he knew how to throw a changeup, but had never really gotten comfortable with it.
Hell, Kenny Rogers even tried to teach him how to throw a better changeup. We all know that the 86 mph Rogers knew how to throw a damn good change. How else did he last into his 40s?
Still, the results weren't there and Bondo plugged along as a fastball/slider pitcher. Pitching coaches and managers had been trying to get him to use the third pitch for years.
In the end, however, they couldn't argue with results, and the result was that Bonderman was an effective pitcher and could still rack up Ks and Ws.
Until the fire went out.
Bonderman tried to re-invent himself last year during his rehab stint with the Toledo MudHens. He learned how to throw a splitter.
It looked as if Bonderman was maturing and coming to terms with his reduced velocity, and was looking to re-invent himself as a ground ball pitcher.
That didn't seem to work too well either. I don't remember seeing many, if any, splitters in the 91.2 innings he has pitched so far this year.
As per his usual, he flaked out on a third pitch. It was announced recently that he was scrapping the splitter and going back to a changeup.
A changeup which we still have yet to see.
Bonderman is still trying to get by with just the fastball/slider combination. He can continue to do that the rest of the season if he wishes...if he likes being a sub .500 pitcher with an ERA approaching five.
That is what he is right now, and will be the rest of the season if he doesn't buck up and start throwing a secondary pitch.
Because the stuff he has now doesn't overpower hitters anymore. The hitters overpower him.
Sunday was a prime example; nine hits allowed in five innings, two of which were three-run homers.
The bottom line is the Tigers simply cannot continue to settle for mediocre from Bonderman if they want to win this season.
Rick Knapp, the pitching coach, needs to sit on him for a while, force it through his head.