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Tigers' Broken Arms Seeking Redemption

Mar 18, 2010 – 9:30 AM
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Ed Price

Ed Price %BloggerTitle%

Dontrelle WillisLAKELAND, Fla. -- In the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium, the lockers of Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis are adjacent along one wall.

Three guys, all on the rebound from health issues and all competing for a starting spot with the Tigers.

The best thing they can do this season, from the team's standpoint, is push each other until two emerge to stabilize the back end of the rotation.

The best thing they can do after the season is go away.

OK, that's a bit harsh. But while Detroit needs those veterans to come back this year, the Tigers can also look forward to next winter, when all their contracts expire.
More Coverage: Tigers 2010 Primer

In fact, with Bonderman ($12.5 million), Willis ($12 million), Robertson ($10 million) off the books, along with left fielder Johnny Damon ($8 million), third baseman Brandon Inge ($6.6 million), catcher Gerald Laird ($3.95 million), Bobby Seay ($2.475 million), Adam Everett ($1.55 million) and perhaps Magglio Ordoñez ($18 million, if his option doesn't vest), Detroit could have $57-75 million to play with. And next year's free-agent class could include Victor Martinez, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth, Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee and Javier Vazquez.

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For now, though, the Tigers need two starters behind Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.

Manager Jim Leyland said piecing together the rotation is "my No. 1 thing" in camp, and it will come down to a competition between Bonderman, Robertson, Willis, Armando Galarraga and Eddie Bonine.

"It's no secret to them, it's no secret to us, it's no secret to Dave [Dombrowski, the GM]," Leyland said. "We have to look at those guys."

Said Willis: "There's always a competition, but we're all friends and family in here. So I think everybody's pushing and pulling for each other sincerely."

The three veterans combined for 39 wins in 2006, but they have just 43 total in the three years since.

After going 14-8 in 2006, Bonderman signed a four-year, $38 million deal. But he was 11-9 with a 5.01 ERA the neat year, and in June 2008 he was discovered to have a blood clot in his right (throwing) shoulder. He needed surgery to remove the clot, angioplasty to repair the damaged vein and then had a rib removed to prevent the pinching of the vein.

He tried to come back last year but managed just one start in June before going back on the disabled list.

"I finally felt right late in the year," Bonderman said, "but I didn't have any strength. This year I'm good, I'm ready to go."

Bonderman, 27, said he has not felt this fresh since 2004.

"I don't think I ever realized how bad it was until now," he said. "When I throw I don't get sore, I don't hurt. It's kind of nice."

The motivation for Bonderman, he said, is not the next contract, but his current one.

"My goal is to go out here and have a great year for this team and this organization," he said, "and pay back some of what they've [given] me, which I haven't earned, really.

"Mr. [owner Mike] Ilitch and those guys are who I want to prove that wasn't a bad contract to."

Robertson, 32, aims to sway even more people.

"I think that over the last couple of years, some opinions have been formed, and I can understand why," said Robertson, whose 5.52 ERA over the past three seasons is the worst in the majors (350 or more innings). "I just need to go out there and get back into form and change that."

Robertson began last year in the bullpen, then in June he underwent surgery to remove four masses -- fatty deposits -- from his elbow. He came back to make six start down the stretch, but during that time he hurt his groin and that required surgery in November.

"I just want to go out and be able to help this team," Robertson said. "And I want them to believe that I can help this team. That's basically my mission, to go out there and make an impression again.

"I want people to look at me in a way that ... I can go out there and get the job done."

Willis, 28, has dropped further off the radar, long removed from the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year and 2005 22-game winner. A year ago, he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and as he worked back from that, he also had to combat severe wildness.

"This is the most excited I've ever been to play baseball," said Willis, who in two seasons since being acquired from the Marlins -- and signing a three-year, $29 million deal -- has 63 walks in 57 2/3 innings. "I'm definitely enthusiastic."

While Robertson wants to show the world, and Bonderman wants to prove something to ownership, Willis is out to please just one person.

Dontrelle Willis.

"I'm not trying to get caught up in trying to be Superman and all that stuff," he said. "I'm going to go out there and have fun and try to enjoy the game. And when you really enjoy what you do, your productivity seems to be better I don't care if you're playing baseball, or whatever you're doing.

"You want to please everybody, and then you forget about yourself."
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