SEATTLE -- For one turn through the Mariners' order, this looked like Jeremy Bonderman of 2005, only with an offspeed pitch. He faced one batter over the minimum, struck out four in a seven-batter stretch and was an out away from taking a scoreless duel with Felix Hernandez into the fourth. The next time through the lineup, Bonderman had only one more out. By the next time through, Bonderman was gone, an already well-worked bullpen was in action and the Tigers were well on their way to an 11-3 loss on Friday night at Safeco Field. It wasn't anywhere near how the Tigers hoped to open their 11-day, 11-game road trip, King Felix or no King Felix. In the end, it didn't look anything like how Bonderman's night was shaping up through the first couple innings.
"I just kind of fell apart," Bonderman said. "I don't know what happened, to be honest with you. I was throwing the ball well. I was locating really well. And all of a sudden, I just got the ball up a little bit." The last time Bonderman pitched here in his home state was his last start in 2008 before his surgery. He was fighting numbness in his right hand to an extent nobody else really knew, which made his quality start that June 1 afternoon all the more impressive despite 12 hits allowed over seven innings. He made just one start for the Tigers over the next year and a half, so simply getting back here in a healthy form was arguably a moral victory. It was going to be his only victory of the night. His health seemed to show in his pitches. Bonderman hit 91 mph on his fourth and fifth pitches of the night, and spotted a 92-mph heater on the corner to strike out Franklin Gutierrez for the second out of the opening inning. His slider had as much bite as at any point since surgery. Just as impressive, the splitters he threw looked more like a polished product than a Spring Training experiment. "Early in the game, he was locating really good," catcher Gerald Laird said. "His slider was tight. He was throwing some good splits." Bonderman used fastballs and sliders to put 0-2 counts on Rob Johnson and Jack Wilson and struck out both of them to begin the third inning. Bonderman was rolling and feeling confident when he tried to get back-to-back fastballs by Ichiro Suzuki, who lined the second of them into left field for Seattle's first hit of the night. "I think I actually made a really good pitch to Ichiro," Bonderman said. "He just kind of slapped it the other way, inside-out. The ball wasn't in enough." The Mariners demonstrated an eagerness to run on Bonderman and Laird with their lone other baserunner to that point. Chone Figgins had taken off soon after reaching base via walk in the opening inning and stole second rather easily thanks to a large lead. Bonderman's delivery to the plate was timed at 1.6 seconds, Leyland said, well slower than average. With two outs in the third, though, the Mariners probably weren't going to manufacture a run. Bonderman said he wasn't overly concerned with Ichiro on the basepaths. Still, before Bonderman had thrown a pitch to Figgins, he threw over to first twice in a row to try to limit Ichiro's lead. The second time, he threw a ball in the dirt that skipped past first baseman Miguel Cabrera, bounced off the fence of the first-base stands and rolled back toward short right field as Ichiro pulled into second. Bonderman, meanwhile, was losing what Leyland called one of the two key at-bats of his outings. He fell behind Figgins on a 3-0 count before getting a strike, then threw ball four as Ichiro stole third base without a throw. Laird and Leyland were more concerned about the walk than the steal. "Right there, in that situation, you can't worry about Ichiro, really," Laird said. "With no damage on the board, you just kind of have to go after the hitters. One more out, he's out of the inning." Said Leyland: "There, you have to go right at him. If he gets a base hit, he gets a base hit." Said Bonderman: "I had two outs. I should've been more aggressive to the plate to Figgins. I tried to get a ground ball. I went slider, slider, slider and fell behind. It just didn't work out." Now Bonderman was a splitter or slider in the dirt away from plating Ichiro and giving up one run. But he was also an extra-base hit away from giving up two. An elevated pitch to Gutierrez left him with the latter, a triple to the fence in right-center field, before Jose Lopez singled in Gutierrez. "You can't have two-out walks," Laird said. "They can always come back to hurt you." Even so, the damage was mitigated when Cabrera doubled in two runs the next inning. Bonderman came back out down only a run, but walked Casey Kotchman on five pitches. That, Leyland said, was the other key at-bat, sparking two more runs with a bunt single, another bunt for a throwing error to plate a run, then a sacrifice fly. Only two running catches from Magglio Ordonez in deep right field prevented worse damage in the fourth. Bonderman found no success in the fifth, when four straight singles and a bases-loaded walk knocked him out and essentially took the Tigers out of the game when all five of those runners scored. "When you face a guy like Felix, the one thing you have to do is pitch well against him," Leyland said. For a while, Bonderman did. It just turned awful way too quickly.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.