Jeremy Bonderman of the Detroit Tigers is one of the best young starting pitchers in baseball -- from the second inning on. Throughout his career, Mr. Bonderman has exhibited one of the game's most puzzling quirks. Last season, his earned run average in the first inning was a nightmarish 11.57. For all other innings, it was an admirable 3.75.
In 151 first innings in his career, Mr. Bonderman has given up 200 hits, 47 doubles, 27 home runs and 66 walks with an ERA of 7.09. Hitters facing him in the first have an All Star-caliber .316 batting average. In the second inning, their average drops to .216.
For the Tigers organization, Mr. Bonderman's mysterious problem has been the subject of hushed conversations, some unusual drills, a few pep talks and at least one unconventional theory (it's the umpires' fault). This season, the stakes are high: The Tigers are one of the preseason favorites to win the World Series, but they will need Mr. Bonderman's help. In his starts last year in which he pitched a scoreless first inning, the Tigers went 7-3. In starts where he didn't, their record was 8-9..