Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding the Tigers going into the season was the back end of the starting rotation. It may still be the biggest question mark but things couldn't have gone much better than they did this week.
First, Dontrelle Willis pitched six solid innings in a 7-3 victory over the Royals on Thursday. Willis allowed just two runs on seven hits and struck out four. Most importantly, he got the ball over the plate. He walked two batters in the first inning but that was it. Two walks in six innings was about as good as you could expect from a pitcher who walked more than a batter an inning the last two years.
Willis also recorded 54 strikes in 88 pitches, a 61% strike rate. That is not outstanding but it's better than the 50% he averaged in 2008 and the 57% he averaged last year. The league average strike percentage is 62% with 65% being very good.
Today, it was Jeremy Bonderman's turn against the Indians. He responded by retiring the the first 11 batters before running into trouble in the fourth. He gave up a run on two walks, a single and a wild pitch. He also piled up a pitch count of 32 in that inning which helped shorten his day on the mound. He returned in the fifth to pitch another perfect inning but was then removed with his pitch count at 91. His final line was 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 5 K and 2 BB.
Bonderman looked like a completely different pitcher than he was the past two years when battled health problems. According to Game Day, he threw his fastball consistently at 92 MPH for the first four innings. That is not as hard as his pre-injury velocity but faster than he's thrown at any point since thoracic surgery. His slider was sharp and, perhaps most importantly, he mixed in his new split finger pitch effectively.
It was just one start for each pitcher but it was all very encouraging. Willis faces Kansas City again in his next outing on Tuesday. Bonderman will work at Seattle next Friday.