Notes: Bonderman unveils new pitch
Right-hander tests changeup against Tigers hitters
LAKELAND, Fla. -- It's called live batting practice, but it's more like pitching practice.
A week into Spring Training, most pitchers are well ahead of hitters in getting ready for the season, since they've been working out longer, and they're bored. Many hitters haven't stepped to the plate against anything more than a coach or a pitching machine since last fall. There's more for a pitcher to gain from the showdown than the hitter.
For a hitter looking to get his timing, facing Jeremy Bonderman isn't much help.
Bonderman has wowed teammates and coaches before during this part of Spring Training, usually for his power. Two years ago, then-Tiger Dmitri Young stepped out of the batter's box and shook his head at some of the stuff Bonderman was throwing, most of it for power.
This year's session was quieter, but Bonderman got the reactions he was looking for.
"I'd throw a pitch and I'd ask them what they thought," Bonderman said. "That's the first time really for me to get somebody in there, and I want to see what they think."
He wasn't wondering about his power. He was mainly asking about the changeup. The opinions were positive.
"He's really throwing it good right now," manager Jim Leyland said.
It's one of the more publicized pitches of Spring Training, considering Bonderman's status in this league. When Leyland said last October that Bonderman was an offspeed pitch away from becoming a "dynamite pitcher," the mission was on for this spring. Now 24 years old, Bonderman's combination of fastball and slider already have him ranked among baseball's bright young pitchers. With the ink just dried on a four-year, $38 million contract, he has financial security to go with Detroit's faith that he's about to blossom further.
With that in mind, Bonderman and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez have been working together on a pitch Bonderman has tried before. The early results are promising. It's not a big story to Leyland, but he still wanted to watch his session Saturday morning to see how hitters reacted.
"That's just another weapon for him that he needs," Leyland said. "Once he masters that, then you've really got something.
Sean Casey was among those hitters who went up against him. Casey usually likes to take pitches in early sessions just to get his timing down and gauge speed.
"I told him it looked good," Casey said. "If he can throw that changeup and he has a third pitch, there's no telling how good he could be."
Of course, like many hitters, every pitch looked difficult for Casey on Saturday. Bonderman's fastball, Casey said, "looked like it's 110 [miles per hour]."
And the offspeed?
"Yeah, that looked like 92," he smiled.
That works for Bonderman, whose feel for the pitch matched the reaction.
"It felt good out there," he said. "I just didn't know how hard they were. It felt good today."
Pitcher, meet hitter: Others who threw besides Bonderman included Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Todd Jones, Wilfredo Ledezma, Jason Grilli, Jose Mesa, Kyle Sleeth, Edward Campusano, Jair Jurrjens and Joey Eischen. The rest will throw on Sunday before the Tigers dedicate Monday's early workout to cutoff and relay drills.
"Basically, I just use it to zero on a target, get to know the strike zone," Grilli said.
The progression helps fight off some of the boredom that can settle into camp in the days just before games begin.
"Not so much the position players," Leyland said, "because they just got here and they're getting their skills and they're hitting and they're coming in early. There's work to be done. I think the pitchers [can get bored], because once the pitchers throw, obviously you can only do so much PFP [pitchers' fielding practice]. I can imagine the pitchers get a little bored."
That was part of the reason Leyland had his pitchers taking batting practice for a couple days earlier this week, though there was still a practical purpose to it.
"Truth be known, [Tigers pitchers] actually bunted pretty well last year in the National League [cities]," Leyland said. "We did a good job. This stuff doesn't just happen."
Speaking of bunting: Leyland is a fan of players trying to bunt for base hits, if for no other reason than to keep opposing defenses wary of it. He'd like to see leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson try for it more often.
Granderson would square around to bunt on occasion, then pull his bat back to take the pitch as a tactic against the pitcher.
"Obviously, not everybody's going to do it," Leyland said, "but it's just another weapon. I like it because it doesn't make sense for me with two outs and a man on third to let the third baseman play in left field, if you can do this. You don't have to be Rod Carew to get a hit out of it. I just think it's another play."
Vazquez in opener: Virgil Vasquez, who was the Tigers' breakout pitcher in the Arizona Fall League, will start Tuesday's unofficial Spring Training opener against Florida Southern College. He'll be followed by a long line of arms, including Jones, Sleeth, Ledezma, Campusano, Mesa and Jurrjens. Most will throw an inning apiece.
Another Fanfest, Florida style: Fans were lined up early Saturday morning for the afternoon's Tiger FanFest event at Joker Marchant Stadium. The Lakeland Flying Tigers sold out the event at 2,000 tickets. The festivities centered around autograph sessions with just about every Tiger player in camp.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.