- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2010

VIERA, Fla. | A little less than two years removed from shoulder surgery, Jeremy Bonderman is close to being back in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation. He’ll have to beat out Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson to get there, though.

Bonderman’s demeanor while working out of trouble over 4 1-3 innings and willingness to throw his new split-fingered fastball impressed manager Jim Leyland during a Tigers split squad’s 8-2 exhibition victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

“Today definitely was a huge step for me,” Bonderman said after allowing five hits and two runs, one earned. “I don’t throw as hard as I used to — I mean, I may never throw as hard as I used to, anymore — but I look at it as I can pitch and get people out with what I have.”

A key moment for the 27-year-old right-hander came in the fourth inning, when the Nationals loaded the bases with no outs. Bonderman walked Dunn after throwing two bad splitters, gave up an opposite-field single to Josh Willingham, then got the grounder he wanted, but shortstop Adam Everett’s fielding error left everyone safe.

“I was mad,” Bonderman said, “at the situation I got myself into.”

But what came next pleased him — and Leyland. Bonderman struck out Mike Morse with a slider, gave up Alberto Gonzalez’s RBI groundout, then got Eric Bruntlett to ground out to end the inning.

“He handled it very well,” Leyland said. “I thought he stayed calm.”

Bonderman took the mound hours after Willis gave up only one run in four innings of a 5-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in another split-squad game earlier in the day.

From 2004-07, Bonderman won 50 games, including a 14-8 record, 202 strikeouts and an AL-leading 34 starts in 2006. But he had shoulder surgery in June 2008 and didn’t make it back to the majors until September 2009, when he made eight appearances, all but one in relief.

The Tigers know who three of their starters will be: Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. The other two spots are up for grabs.

“Nate looked good the other day, Dontrelle looked good today, Bonderman looked good tonight,” Leyland said.

“You can make the case that they’ve all done OK. I don’t think anybody’s done great, but certainly nobody’s done bad. Nobody’s spit the bit.”

The Nationals also are trying to square away their five starters, and J.D. Martin’s outing Thursday began about as poorly as possible before improving considerably. He gave up five runs in the first, then retired the last 11 Tigers he faced over five innings.

After getting the first two batters out, Martin’s evening went like this: single, walk, RBI single by Alex Avila, RBI ground-rule double by Scott Sizemore, two-run double by Adam Everett off third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s glove, RBI single by Brent Dlugach.

All told: five hits, five runs.

It was Martin’s second start against major leaguers this spring — but first since March 4, when he threw two perfect innings against the Florida Marlins. He had one other appearance against major leaguers as a reliever, but otherwise had been working in intrasquad games.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said before the game he wanted to see what Martin could do against big leaguers and give him a chance to sort of steal a rotation berth from Livan Hernandez and Scott Olsen.

“He did a heck of a job — with the exception of that four-hitter span in the first inning that cost him five runs,” Riggleman said after his club’s spring record dropped to 5-16.

There was some good news for the Nationals: Center fielder Nyjer Morgan singled twice and stole two bases in his first game after being sidelined 10 days with a tight right hamstring. And Morgan wasn’t running all-out.

“I had it about 80 percent today. I didn’t have it cranked up,” he said. “I didn’t really want to push it too hard, but I wanted to still push it, just to show the boys that even though I was injured, it’s good now.”

Riggleman’s assessment: “Looked like his typical self. Couldn’t ask for more.”

NOTES: Detroit LF Johnny Damon and RF Magglio Ordonez had two hits apiece. … Nationals C Jesus Flores is expected to start the season on the disabled list as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. As for when he’ll be playing baseball again, Flores said: “We’re not thinking about (a timetable) right now.” … RHP Mike MacDougal reported to camp a day after agreeing to terms on a minor league deal with Washington and said his surgically repaired hip is not bothering him.

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