From Minors to ALDS: Bonser gets nod
Right-hander set to start in playoffs after long journey
MINNEAPOLIS -- Not every day do we see a pitcher go from the Rochester Red Wings to starting Game 2 of the American League Division Series in the span of two months, but then it is not often a pitcher like Minnesota rookie Boof Bonser arrives on the scene.
Bonser, the American League Rookie Pitcher of the Month for September, will start Game 2 of the ALDS against Esteban Loaiza and Oakland in a 12:09 CT game at the Metrodome on Wednesday afternoon as the Twins try to tie the series after dropping Tuesday's opener.
Going with a rookie in a must-win game might raise eyebrows elsewhere, but not in the Minnesota clubhouse, where center fielder Torii Hunter praised his angry demeanor.
"Boof is a gamer," Twins outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He's so clutch. The pressure is not on him, the pressure is on somebody else."
Bonser, who turns 25 on Oct. 14, was 7-6 with a 4.22 ERA in 18 starts for the Twins, including 4-1 with a 2.63 ERA in six September starts. He was called up from Triple-A Rochester on May 17 to replace Kyle Lohse, then was sent back to the Minors on July 5 after posting a 5.30 ERA in his first seven starts. He was recalled on Aug. 10 when Francisco Liriano was injured.
"I'm not worried about [Bonser]," Twins catcher Joe Mauer said. "He's been pitching extremely well -- he'll be fine."
The second time around has been much better for Bonser, whose strong finish helped the Twins catch Detroit and win the AL Central crown.
"I think one thing I have seen Boof do since he has come back [is] attack the strike zone, use all the pitches, and even though he has got a name like Boof, he is still a bulldog -- he attacks pretty good," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He has a lot of heart, but he hasn't backed away from a lot of lineups. That's what impresses me. You tip your hat.
"He is a young man that wasn't expected to do this [at this] level this year, but we had a pretty good pitching staff. He has come up, he has been fantastic -- we knew he was going to start this level. He has been asked to do it a little earlier than [most players], and I think starting in the playoffs is an indication of what he has done for this team."
The right-hander is an aggressive pitcher who challenges hitters. That aggressiveness does come with a cost, as he is vulnerable to the long ball (18 in 100 1/3 innings).
In his one start against Oakland this season, Bonser gave up four earned runs in seven innings, a loss to Barry Zito at McAfee Network Associates Coliseum on June 1. Three of the five hits Bonser allowed in that game were home runs (Frank Thomas, Mark Kotsay and Dan Johnson).
"This is a tough lineup here," Bonser said. "I faced them there the last time in Oakland, but I am going to go at these guys. I have been doing it since I have been up here and, like I say, I am not going to back down. I am just going to go right at them."
When he faced them in June, Bonser wasn't attacking the zone as he has during the final six weeks of the season. The results are better, and Gardenhire and Bonser believe the youngster is a different pitcher this time around.
"I think when he was up here earlier, he kind of picked a little bit," Gardenhire said. "He had a real good start in Milwaukee, where he attacked the hitters and everything, and it's hard to maintain. It's a learning experience, and if you get hit a little bit, you start backing up.
"The one thing we talked to Boof about is keeping the ball in the ballpark. He had some issues giving up a home run -- you still keep it in the ballpark, pitching to contact and not trying to blow people away all the time. He thinks he has really learned over the course of being up here the second time around. He has used all of his pitches a lot better and attacked them and kept the ball down -- we have seen success."
After he was sent back to the Minors, Bonser said he worked on throwing all his pitches for strikes. That has paid dividends this time around.
"I think the last time that I came back up is when everything was starting to go through," Bonser said. "I went down and worked on some stuff, and my first game back it was like, 'Here I go, I am just going to go after these guys,' and that's what I have been doing ever since."
The rookie will also have to deal with one of the loudest venues in sports, but he's not worried about that. At least he'll be pitching at home.
The Metrodome noise will be just one more reminder that he's not in Rochester anymore.
"I talked to all the starters, and they say it's going to be crazy," Bonser said. "But you've got to keep pitching your game and don't back down, and just go out there and pretend it's another game. Don't worry about the playoffs, just pitch your game and go after these guys.
"I can't wait to hear the noise. They say this place will make your ears bleed. When I go out there tomorrow, I can't wait. I can't wait to hear it. I am just trying to take it all in, from going to Rochester in the beginning of the year, and up and down, and now [being the] Game 2 starter, it's unbelievable to me."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.