Dontrelle designated

Dontrelle Willis’ Tigers tenure is over. The Tigers announced Saturday they are designating his contract for assignment to make room for Max Scherzer on the 25-man roster in time for Scherzer’s scheduled start Sunday.

From there, the Tigers will technically have 10 days to try to trade Willis or see if another team claims Willis on waivers. Neither option seems likely. With Willis all but certain to decline a minor league assignment, this essentially means the end of a pairing that went perplexingly bad from the start in 2008 and never saw Willis return to his Florida form.

“It never worked out the way we would’ve liked it to work out,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in announcing the move. “I don’t think I really need to say any more than that. At the time, we thought we were getting a guy who would come in and be a very solid big league pitcher, and it didn’t work out for us. Those things happen at times. You’re never happy when they do. He’s put forward the effort. We know we’ve dealt with a lot of issues with him. It’s unfortunate.”

Willis went 2-8 with a 6.86 ERA over the last three years with the Tigers, covering 24 games, 22 of them starts. He missed stretches over the previous two seasons to the disabled list — a knee injury in 2008, then what was termed as anxiety disorder last year — but at the root, his Tigers tenure came down to a seemingly endless battle with finding the strike zone consistently.

The 28-year-old became one of baseball’s more encouraging comeback stories this spring when he won a job in the Opening Day rotation, beating out Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga among others. He threw quality outings in three of his first four starts, including six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Twins in a big AL Central battle April 29 at Comerica Park.

For the season, went 1-2 with a 4.98 ERA in eight starts and a relief appearance, but it was his May struggles — 0-1 record, 6.52 ERA, 23 hits and 17 walks over 19 1/3 innings — that drew the Tigers to stick with the recently-recalled Galarraga in the rotation over Willis. He had solid stretches in a couple of those May performances, retiring 11 of the first 12 Dodgers he faced May 21 in Los Angeles, but had similarly rough stretches where he battled walks.

“I think probably the uncertainly is [a factor],” manager Jim Leyland said. “Not knowing what you were going to get was probably a key factor. I’ll leave it at that, because he gave a great effort and he was a great teammate. It’s sad, really.”

His performance Friday night against the A’s, giving up three runs on nine hits with four walks and five strikeouts, prompted a meeting among club officials Saturday afternoon.

“It’s difficult,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “For us and for me, because we had a meeting with the staff members today, it’s difficult, because he’s worked hard to try to overcome a lot. He’s made some strides, it became apparent, this year. For us, we just weren’t seeing the same progress we saw in the spring. At times you see, but not on a consistent basis.”

This team, a disabled list stint was not an option. The Tigers apparently had no such discussions with either Willis or his agent, Matt Sosnick, before they informed Willis of the move Saturday night.

For now, Willis will be in roster limbo, but could well be headed for a release. To claim Willis on waivers would involve taking on the rest of his contract. He’s scheduled to make $12 million this season, the final year of the three-year, $29 million contract he signed with the Tigers after they acquired him from Florida in the Miguel Cabrera trade.

Even with the Tigers picking up the rest of that money, a little more than $8 million, it would appear unlikely another team would give up a prospect for him in the way the Tigers were able to acquire a reliever for Nate Robertson at the end of Spring Training.

With Willis all but certain to decline a minor league assignment, as is his right, he could become a free agent in a week and a half, which would allow him to sign with another team for the Major League minimum and have the Tigers pick up the rest of his salary. More important for him, he’ll get a fresh start in a new organization.

“I definitely have seen some strides forward from last year to this year,” catcher Gerald Laird. “He’s close. He’s going to bounce back and get with another club, and he’s going to get right. It’s tough to see a guy leave like that. But they felt like the decision needed to be made to better the ballclub, and they did it. It’s one of those things you hate to see, but it’s part of the game and we all understand that. He does, too.

“His career is far from over. You are going to see him back somewhere.”

24 Comments

Well Dave, looks like you nailed this one, at least as far as this blog is concerned. My biggest memory of spring training 2010 will be Dontrelle’s appearances. It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t get all the way back with this team, but I’m sure someone will pick him up. If we’re trying to contend for the division, we really can’t have the uncertainty, as JL said. Last night’s start was a microcosm. While Willis had kept the damage minimized, I’m sure many of you felt the same sense of relief that I did when Galarraga came in and began throwing pitches over or near the plate.
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Regarding tonight’s game, it again looked to me like we ran up against a pitcher who had it all working. While it would be easy to slam our hitters, what I’m really seeing game after game is opposing pitchers who are really on for whatever reason. Let’s hope this trend comes to an end. We do seem to have trouble with strike throwers. We’ve morphed from a team that hacks away to one that works the count, and that’s been working against us. As it is, we’ve seen a lot of pitchers with good numbers coming in who then go out and demonstrate why.
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I’m of the opinion that Porcello suffered from the extra day of rest. He did well keeping it close, but the incredible amount of flyballs hit was evidence that he didn’t have his usual stuff. I prefer to have the guys go on regular rest and skipping someone’s turn when necessary.
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It looked like the throw from Everett took an unexpected high hop at Laird. Maybe it hit something.
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At this point, we’re in danger of falling too far behind the Twins. You start getting 5 games down and it takes weeks or months to catch up. We’re not likely to gain much ground during interleague play. If ever there was a time for a winning streak, this is it. It could also be that we’re not that good of a club this year. We’ll need to turn it on between now and the AS break.
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–Rich

So, it finally comes down to this. They are forced to give up on Willis. Now they have no LH starter. And it seems like every other team has an abundance of LHB to hit against them. How is Nate Robertson doing? Hmmm. 4-4. Is it too soon to bring up that Crosby fellow? Maybe Coke needs to be stretched out to start. Sounds like Schlereth might be ready to take a LH spot in the bullpen. If Perry hasn’t totally lost confidence in himself, it isn’t for lack of trying by JL. Maybe Old Smokey wants to see some other pitcher from Toledo. Is that Jay Sborz? Does anyone else besides me look at Eddie Bonine and see another Zach Miner? Not a good bullpen pitcher? Good night, Mr Leyland, whenever you go.

I never understood the move to get rid of Robertson for organizational filler, when he was the best of the three vying for the last two spots on the team. Two of those are now gone, and two of our starting rotation have had to spend time in the minors to pull it back together, neither of them lefties. Way to turn a strength into a weakness, Double-D.

Of course, all of this has been coming for some time. No one I knew expected Dontrelle to actually make it this year. On other sites they’re already talking about the Tigers looking for a starter in trade. Wonder who we can get for that crap AA Loogy we got for Robertson.

The sorry saga is now at least finally over. I hope Willis can return, at least in the NL.
Hindsight is of course never wrong but have to wonder why Scherzer was an automatic selection on the roster after such an ugly Spring Training. With the roster decisions burning $21.6m and now without a starting lefty, have to think DD could have been a bit more creative.
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I like Knapp but how can Scherzer get straigtened out so quickly after being sent down having a ST ERA of 6.23 followed by 7.29 in the regular season, yet has 0.6 ERA after 15 IP with Toledo.

I wouldn’t want to see Nate, Armando, Sherzer, or Willis starting for the Tigers. Dontrelle is a good guy. Getting rid of him is a good move. Signing him to an extension was bad.
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The thing is, there are too many MLB teams, and not enough pitchers. This is one of the biggest problems in baseball if you ask me.

Scherzer was a quality pitcher in the bigs the last 1.5 years and for the first 4 starts this year. He got lit up his next our starts. He dominated in AAA. People really think there is a better option, both for now and for the long-term than Scherzer? Who else can you just throw in there that K’s a batter per inning, is just 25 and has a 2.66 lifetime ERA in the minors? I’m not saying he’s JV, but who thinks Eddie Bonine, Edgar Gonzalez, Alfedo Figaro or whoever would be any better? For anyone who was irritated we traded an All-Star to get Scherzer, look at Edwin Jackson’s numbers this year. It’s one thing to criticize management for sticking with Dontrelle for three years…and quite another to criticize management for bringing up the best option available to replace him.

We need to move on. Willis was a front office mistake, pure and simple. They waited too long in trying to save face..
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Surely Scherzer should be sharp this time. (Say that fast 5 times).
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He is the least of our problems. We still have management thinking this team can compete with no production from their catcher, shortstop and 3rd sacker. A manager who stubbornly refuses to use his bullpen properly and makes up things on the fly.
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We still have a leadoff mand that doesn’t steal bases and a team that (even though blessed with a number of sub .2000 hitters) doesn’t use the sac bunt to manufacture runs.
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In my opinion they need to get this offense clicking or they will have a throroughly demoralized rotation.

In response to a generally lethargic offense I see JL has been really inventive and made the stunning deciscion to swap Santiago for Everett. That’s it. Same lineup as yesterday.
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Nothing stubborn about this lovable old coot.

Does anybody else here subscribe to MLBTV? I can’t get this game (“Media Error”) but can get get any other MLB game going on..

From what I HEAR–Scherzer is throwing quite well so far. Gameday says he is throwing hard and Dickerson and Price say he has some life to his fastball. That’s great to hear.

Now?
12 k but almost 100 pitches ,in a Verlander´s fashion, in the 5th. He will be in the sixth but then?

Dan I logged in there and checked it out. I got a media error on the Detroit feed but was able to receive the Oakland feed. I know you need premium for that choice of feeds, so it depends on what you’ve got. Good luck.
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–Rich

Yes, also having trouble with Detroit feed and I have Premium. Listening to Dan and Jim and remembering how good they are.

Scherzer is throwing a great game, 9 strike outs in 4 innings. Inge is 2 for 2 with a double and HR, Laird is 2 for 2 also. That’s called the power of positive thinking, try it people :)

Thanks Rich. Got it going now.
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Scherzer sure has it going.
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Laird 2 for 2?? Whew. Ooops–belly flop at 1st didn’t make it!
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Raburn is an absolute butcher in LF. Cust ball was not an easy out , but it should have been an out. Boesch gets a glove to that ball at least. I am thinking the Raburn must be realted to Leyland somehow.
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Scherzer just hit his career high…12 strike outs. Raburn made an awesome catch last night, you can’t always get em.

OK.. Raburn has had 3 ABs. It would be wise to put Kelly in defensively right now before he does something disturbing out there.

Raburn isn’t the only one not hitting but we are still winning the game, try enjoying the moment :)

Not my point. His D is what can turn a game around in a NY minute.
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Hope Coke can do the job and preserve Scherzers fine outing. I am not overly excited about Coke. He looks pretty hittable to me

Thank You Phil. Max deserved that.
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Pretty impressive pitching. He was on a record breaking pace for Ks!

Things happen when you bunt. They just do. It puts pressure on the defense and mistakes are made.

Yup, the bunt led to a big inning! More bunts, more big innings!

So glad Scherzer was able to keep rolling from Toledo. Some small ball pressure and 6 hits from the bottom four sure helped in only our 2nd 5+ run win of the season. You simply can’t wear pitchers down without the bottom order contributing.
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Maggs has quietly gone about his business this year and is now .3-/.439 for RISP with 34 RBI’s. Miggs is a ridiculous .412/.516 with his 48 RBI’s leading the Majors. Inge for all his faults is 3rd with his 23 RBI’s, still a useful #7. Worth at SS with Avila back after a short Toledo stint would make this a more regular occurrence.
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Damon is hitting only .22/.365 for RISP – additional ammunition for putting him back as leadoff as he gets on base but is struggling to get them home.

You couldn’t script a better “comeback” for Scherzer. That was fantastic.
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