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News » Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch 2009-03-01

Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch 2009-03-01

Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch 2009-03-01
It's much too early to rush to judgment, but one of the saddest stories of the spring could be unfolding in the Tigers' camp. Things do not look good for left-hander Dontrelle Willis following his first appearance of spring training.

Willis, one of the most likeable people in baseball, is trying to come back from a season in which his struggles with his control and a knee injury limited him to 24 innings -- and he walked 38 in that short span.

The left-hander worked out hard between seasons and was sharp in the bullpen and in an early batting practice session. But his first exhibition appearance on Feb. 27 was not a thing of beauty.

Willis relieved to begin the third inning and wound up allowing two hits and two unearned runs while facing six batters. Willis faced three batters in the fourth, didn't retire any of them and was relieved after throwing 43 pitches to nine batters.

Willis gave up a leadoff single in the fourth, walked his only batter (on four pitches) and hit the next on an 0-and-2 pitch, his 43rd of the outing. Willis threw 25 strikes and threw at least four pitches to eight of the nine batters he faced.

"After the walk," Willis said, "I attacked the strike zone rather than throwing ball 8, 9 and 10."

It can be spun that Willis, in the middle of a three-year deal he signed after being obtained from Florida in a trade before 2008, allowed only three hits and just one walk.

But he struggled with his control again at a time in which he cannot afford to do so because he is one of three pitchers battling for one spot in the Tigers' rotation.

"With his rhythm and overall delivery, he was in a pretty good synch in the first inning," manager Jim Leyland said. "But then he was not so good."

Willis is an outgoing, happy and agreeable individual. This is a guy, after all, who could have legally refused to go to the minors last summer when the Tigers wanted him to go there and work out his kinks out of the spotlight.

He decided to go because it was in everybody's best interests.

But unless Willis begins turning in crisp, clean outings, he's going to get stuck with the Steve Blass Disease label. Blass went 19-8 for Pittsburgh in 1972 but came to spring training in 1973 and couldn't throw a strike. He pitched one game in 1974, and his career was over.

There will be a lot of pressure on Willis the next time he pitches. Knowing it won't make it any easier.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: March 1, 2009

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