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Dontrelle Willis is a mystery to most Twins

Dontrelle Willis is a mystery to most Twins
Mike Redmond held a little 2003 World Series reunion of his own Tuesday and was happy at what he found. Dontrelle Willis, the star rookie of the Florida Marlins' world championship team, "is just as passionate and energetic as ever," Redmond said. "That was good to see."

There has been plenty of doubt on that point; the phrase "anxiety disorder" -- which has kept Willis on the disabled list all season, leading up to his season-debut start tonight against the Twins -- doesn't suggest a happy-go-lucky free spirit. Yet that's what Willis was during his brilliant first three seasons with the Marlins. "That was real. He was like that all the time," Redmond said of Willis' magnetic personality.

But success hasn't followed him to Detroit, where Willis was traded in December 2007. He signed a three-year, $29 million contract shortly before the season opened, but elbow troubles required surgery and limited him to eight appearances last season. He has yet to deliver a single victory on that contract.

"I know I've been terrible," Willis told Detroit reporters over the weekend. "But that was yesterday."

The yesterdays were pretty good. Willis burst into the big leagues in 2003 and won nine consecutive games. He made the National League all-star team and helped pitch the Marlins to their six-game championship against the New York Yankees.

"I wouldn't have a World Series ring without him," Redmond said.

Willis won 22 games in 2005 but is 22-29 since. And in spring training, the Tigers tried to figure out what was preventing him from recovering his former greatness.

The diagnosis: anxiety disorder. Willis was sent to the minors to work his way back, and after four starts -- including a seven-inning, two-run performance for Class A Lakeland last week -- he was summoned back to Detroit.

He's a calmer presence on the mound now. Redmond remembers adrenaline being Willis' biggest foe when he was going good.

"He was a challenge, but it was mostly trying to get him to settle down because he was so amped up out there," Redmond said. "He has that great fastball, (and is) really aggressive in the strike zone. We had a good time. I loved catching him."

He reminds Redmond of Francisco Liriano, the way he exploded into the game as a rookie, then had to work his way back from an injury. But he's a mystery to the Twins , with tonight being his first appearance against Minnesota.

"There's really not a lot of reports on him over the last couple of years. You go back and look at old video, and we'll just have to see what he's doing out there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We'll see how he's throwing the ball and see what kind of adjustments we can make."

The expectations for the lanky left-hander are the same for Willis as anybody else, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said earlier this week. "My expectations are for him to win games, like it is for every other pitcher that I put out there. There's no bones about that. This is not a gimme situation. This is the big leagues, and we're trying to win," Leyland told reporters.

"My expectations are that he will do well. I think he's got a very good chance to do that. We will see. But I'm 100 percent behind the move to get him here and to find out. This is not a trial. This is not experimental. This is not developmental. This is the big leagues."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 13, 2009

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