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D-Train Getting Back on Track

To say the 2008 season was a disappointment for Dontrelle Willis and the Detroit Tigers would be a gross understatement.

Willis, part of a trade that also brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, was expected to serve as a No. 2 guy behind Justin Verlander but instead was beset by a litany of problems after the Tigers offered the lefty a $29 million extension.

Willis entered 2008 noticeably heavier, which affected his delivery; on top of that, he injured his knee while pitching on a rain-slick mound in Chicago. The final insult came in June when Willis, nursing an ERA over 10, was demoted all the way down to single-A Lakeland (Fla.).

After working on his mechanics, Willis was recalled in September where he went 0-1 in three outings. But now in spring training, reports out of Tigers camp are that Willis is back into form.

Willis, who will start in the Tigers' exhibition game Friday, is now working in more change ups and breaking balls to complement his fastball and receiving praise based on his batting practice throwing sessions.

"He looked really good," manager Jim Leyland said. "Good life, good movement, throwing strikes. ... He looks tremendous right now, to be honest with you."

By CJ Holley  |  February 25, 2009; 4:03 PM ET
Categories:  Tigers  
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i still think it's amazing nearly everyone comes into camp "in the best shape of their life" or "throwing better than ever". makes you wonder what they've done the rest of their career or if they're just blowing smoke (not that anyone would do such a thing)

Posted by: adampschroeder | February 25, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I always liked Willis. Hope that he's able to get it together this year.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 26, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

At the start of the off-season, I had thought that there might have been a way to get Willis to the Nats by getting involved in the Julio Lugo for Dontrelle deal that had been widely discussed.

I thought AK would be a useful 4th OF for the Red Sox, given their CF/RF left-handedness and injury history. Also, I thought D Young's contract situation was not unpalatable for the Red Sox given he had been waived through to the minors, could be kept off the roster, and coudl serve as Papi insurance until Lars Anderson develops.

Essentially, by ditching $14 million in commitments to Kearns and Young, Willis would have been an attractive gamble for the Nats. I did not see Willis as a good fit for Boston, either, given their rotation depth even before Smoltz and Penny.

But the Tigers went for a cheap glove at SS (Everett), the Red Sox signed Baldelli, Kotsay, and Wilkerson for the one year incremental cost of Dmitri (AK and JL are a one year wash, but JL has two more years guaranteed and a 3d with a makeable option), and the Nats brought in Olsen and Cabrera for minimal dollars.

I/M/O, I think the Tigers are probably better off gambling on Dontrelle and relying on Everett for a while than picking up Julio. As for the other teams, I'm not so sure.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | February 26, 2009 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I tend to agree with you here jca. That deal would've made sense for all parties but each made decisions that are completely understandable.

However, the Tigers end up holding the bag on Willis as it seems he may not be up to being a legit No. 2 in the American League.

Of course Detroit's pitching woes last year weren't solely on Willis. Verlander inexplicably regressed, Bonderman was injured, Rogers finally aged and of course there was their revolving door of bullpen injuries.

But, given his new deal and high profile, each of Willis's blemishes seemed magnified.

Posted by: CJ Holley | February 27, 2009 1:24 AM | Report abuse

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