June 10th, 2009

Willis starting Sunday, Bonderman to pen

The Tigers rotation situation has been solved. Dontrelle Willis will make his next start Sunday at Pittsburgh, while Jeremy Bonderman is headed for the bullpen for now.

The move brings Detroit’s starting ranks from six pitchers to five after Monday’s day-night doubleheader. What it means for Bonderman’s return from shoulder problems remains to be seen.

Willis is winless in his last four starts with an 8.53 ERA and 16 walks over 19 innings since holding the Rangers scoreless over 6 1/3 innings May 19 at Comerica Park. However, Willis has competed on the mound to make his stuff work, a facet possibly never more evident than his outing Tuesday against the White Sox.

Despite five walks and five hits over as many innings, Willis held Chicago to three runs, leaving with a tie score before Detroit eventually pulled it out. He seemingly injured his right knee sliding into home plate for a tag attempt, then made his final out with a diving stop on the first-base side of the mound and a throw to first from the ground.

Once Willis’ knee was fine Wednesday, manager Jim Leyland’s decision was made.

“I think Dontrelle certainly deserves to go out there Sunday,” Leyland said. “I really like the way he competed.”

Willis’ outing came a day after Bonderman made his first Major League start in a year, taking a loss against the White Sox with six runs on eight hits over four-plus innings. Three of those hits were home runs.

It has been a slow process for Bonderman to regain his velocity after surgery last summer to correct a blood vessel restriction in his shoulder, and his fastball topped out at 91 mph Monday. He spent his Minor League rehab assignment trying to learn how to focus more on changing speeds and locating rather than being a power pitcher like in the past. That process will continue from somewhere other than Detroit’s rotation.

Bonderman was in the bullpen Tuesday night with a shortened Tigers relief staff, but Leyland said nothing about Bonderman’s role going past this series.

More from Jacob Turner

Plenty has been made about whether Jacob Turner is seriously considering going to college before he turns pro. Whether intentional or not, he very much portrayed the notion that his options are open.

“The whole season, my plan has been North Carolina,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’ve had guanarateed to me. And really, the only thing that has changed to me is that instead of one option, I have two options.”

What comes across when talking with him, even on a conference call over the phone, is that he’s pretty mature and relatively well-spoken for his age. Makeup was one factor scouting director David Chadd mentioned twice when talking about Turner — not nearly as big of an asset as his fastball, but still an asset.

“Makeup’s critical,” Chadd said, “but more important is his abilities. We’re talking about a high-school right-hander with excellent abilities.”

More from Turner:

  • On comparisons to Rick Porcello: “Obviously I’m with the same [agent, though Porcello parted ways with Scott Boras shortly after signing his contract]. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Rick Porcello and a lot of good things about his work ethic, his drive on the field. We’ll see what happens.”
  • On Todd Worrell, the former closer who’s the pitching coach at Westminster Christian Academy: “Coach Worrell, he was a big help to me. Just from him being a Major League pitcher, he’s got a great wealth of knowledge with pitching and offspeed pitches, how to command your pitches and how to go about your business on the mound. He really helped me out throughout my career.”
  • On being a Cardinals fan but a new Tiger in Cardinals territory, with the two meeting next week at Busch Stadium: “I think everybody in St. Louis is a Cardinals fan. It just came with the territory. I guess my loyalties will be strained next week.”