Relentless Tiger

DETROIT - Jeremy Bonderman is often overlooked.

That's just the way he likes it.

The Detroit Tigers have six All-Stars, including their manager, and Bonderman will only join them next week in San Francisco if he is voted in via an Internet ballot.

Bonderman (9-1) has a winning percentage that trails only one player in the majors, Brad Penny of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his latest gem was Sunday night.

The right-hander pitched eight scoreless innings - giving up six hits, striking out seven and walking only one - to help Detroit beat Minnesota 1-0.

"He seemed to make the ball disappear," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Bonderman would be happy if he could make his body do the same when reporters and TV cameras fill the clubhouse, looking for stories.

Detroit All-Stars Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, Justin Verlander and manager Jim Leyland attract the most attention.

Rookie Andrew Miller and 42-year-old Kenny Rogers generate more buzz than Bonderman, too.

When Detroit's young pitchers are praised, the 24-year-old Bonderman rarely is a part of the discussion.

"I've never been an 'I' guy that wants to be in the media spotlight," he said. "I love to compete and play. I love being around my teammates and coaches. I don't need the rest."

Bonderman decided he didn't need a senior year at Pasco High School in Washington, so he earned a general equivalency diploma and entered the draft at the age of 18.

The Oakland Athletics took Bonderman with the 26th pick overall in the June 2001 draft, making him the first U.S. native to be drafted after his junior year in high school.

He was traded to Detroit a year later as the player to be named in a three-team deal that sent Jeff Weaver to the New York Yankees.

After only one season of Single-A seasoning, he was rushed to the majors and went 6-19 in 2003 as the Tigers lost an AL-record 119 games.

He bounced back with an 11-13 record the next year and a 14-13 mark in 2005.

Bonderman's breakout season came last year, when he was 14-8 with a 4.08 ERA in the regular season.

"He always had it in him," said former teammate Dmitri Young, an All-Star this season with the Washington Nationals. "It was just a matter of him maturing. He was 20 years old his first year, but he was one of those guys who was determined to be the best.

"I always looked at him like a young Roger Clemens."

Bonderman was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the AL division series, helping Detroit eliminate the Yankees. He had a 3.10 ERA in three postseason starts, helping the franchise reach the World Series for the first time since 1984.

"He grew up last year, especially in the playoffs," Detroit closer Todd Jones said.

The Tigers rewarded Bonderman with a $38 million, four-year contract in the offseason and kept him off the free agent market after the 2008 season.

His ERA is 3.58 and if he received better run support in his first four starts - when he gave up a total of seven runs and didn't factor in the decision - his 9-1 record would be even better.

"He's blessed with a great arm, and he's a competin' fool," Leyland said. "He's making progress. It's not a difference between day and night with him, it's a gradual thing, but he's really good.

"He's a treat because you write him in and he's a horse. He wants the ball. He has no fear of anything. He's a manager's dream."

After agreeing to the terms of his new deal in December, Bonderman said the financial security would help his performance. Six months later, he said the money has indeed helped him on the mound.

"I don't worry about taking care of my family anymore. I just have to pitch," he said. "If I don't pitch well, I don't think about what it might mean to me money-wise anymore. It's just human nature that you look over your shoulder and wonder, but that's not happening now."

Bonderman also was helped by another off-the-field development. He and his wife, Amber, had their first child, Mailee, who turned 1 a month ago.

"She takes my mind off the game when I'm home, like nothing else ever did," Bonderman said. "Whether I won or lost, she just wants to play."

Bonderman will have even less to worry about career-wise if he can develop and trust a changeup to go along with his 95-mph fastball and one of baseball's best sliders.

"He's a two-pitch guy," Jones said. "If he can get hitters with his changeup, he'll really be tough."

Tigers pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said Bonderman's changeup has gotten a lot better, but insisted that hasn't been the key to his development.

"His thought process and ability to learn how to pitch has taken a big leap," Hernandez said. "He's not just relying on good stuff, rearing back and firing like he used to."

Leyland could've put Bonderman on the All-Star roster, creating a rare dose of publicity, but he chose Minnesota's Johan Santana over him. Leyland did, however, put Bonderman's name onto a list of players who could earn the final AL spot via Internet balloting.

"I'm not worried about that stuff," Bonderman said. "Skip made the right decision."