Results tagged ‘ Dontrelle Willis ’
Dontrelle Willis is close to finding a new home. The Tigers aren’t confirming any deal at this point, but Arizona is looking like the most likely destination.
Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse reports a deal is done pending a physical. Neither the Diamondbacks nor the Tigers are saying anything is official at this point, and Willis’ agent Matt Sosnick said he hasn’t gotten word. Still, it’s clear the two sides are in discussions. D’backs general manager Josh Byrnes confirmed interest to MLB.com Monday night.
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday night he has “nothing to say.”
The Tigers have had interest from several clubs, all in the National League, and they’re expected to deal him shortly. Arizona makes the most sense, both because of their need for pitching and the location. Willis just closed on a new home in Arizona last week.
Ironically enough, Willis is not there right now. He spent Tuesday in Toledo, where he worked out with the Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field and threw a side session under the watch of pitching coach A.J. Sager. He’s free to work out there this week while the Hens are in town, but it looks like he won’t be there long.
Willis is due about $8.1 million for the remainder of his three-year, $29 million contract. The Tigers are expected to pick the vast majority of that, save for the prorated minimum salary of about $266,000.
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.”
Yes, Jim Leyland said, he really was prepared to let Dontrelle Willis bat in the ninth inning. He was not simply a decoy, though he ended up being a pretty good one at that.
It was a piece of National League strategy that most American League teams never pull out in Interleague Play, especially in a nine-inning game. But Detroit’s bench was down one hitter with Austin Jackson out. Leyland used Ryan Raburn as a pinch-hitter for Rick Porcello in the seventh and lost another bench player when he put Don Kelly into the game as a defensive replacement in left field in the bottom of the eighth.
That left Alex Avila and Adam Everett on the Tigers bench when the pitchers spot came back around for the ninth. Once Brandon Inge drew a leadoff walk, Leyland got Dontrelle Willis ready to hit.
Willis was on deck when Danny Worth’s single put runners at the corners with one out, making it an RBI situation.
“I felt like I wasn’t going to waste a player unless I had to,” Leyland said.
Willis’ hitting prowess from his National League days is well-known, enough that some critics have wondered whether Willis could become a position player if his past pitching struggles proved unshakable. He’s a .232 career hitter with 10 doubles, five triples, eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 354 at-bats. Even better, he’s 5-for-11 in his career with a runner on third and less than two outs, and he’s 6-for-18 as a pinch-hitter.
The vast majority of those chances, however, came in the National League. He has barely hit over the last two years. However, he had two at-bats in his start against the Dodgers Friday, so he was fresh.
It was serious enough that manager Joe Torre went to the mound and replaced right-hander Ronald Belisario with left-hander George Sherrill. Leyland immediately countered by pulling back Willis and sending Adam Everett to the plate.
After swinging at the first pitch and taking two others to get ahead in the count, Everett laid down a well-placed squeeze bunt, scoring Inge. But Leyland said he wouldn’t have hesitated to let Willis hit had Torre kept Belisario in.
“If he hadn’t brought the lefty, I would’ve let Dontrelle hit,” Leyland said. “I felt comfortable with him swinging the bat. He hit what would’ve been two sacrifice flies probably [Friday]. Then if something happens to an infielder, I’ve still got Everett.”
Asked if that could happen again, Leyland said, “I think you could possibly see that in Interleague Play if we were short of players. I doubt that you’d see it in the American League.”
By contrast, he rarely ever feels comfortable with the squeeze bunt, never has. But it was something to try there.
“I hate the squeeze play,” Leyland said. “I’ve always hated the squeeze play. I hate it putting it on. It seems like it’s an hour before the pitch is delivered. But you try it with Adam Everett. We just took a shot. He got a decent pitch to bunt. He bunted it to the middle of the field, which is what you’re supposed to do, and we picked up an extra run on it. We were fortunate.”
By this time Wednesday, the Tigers’ 25-man roster should be known. Manager Jim Leyland said Monday afternoon that roster moves Tuesday to whittle the roster down to about 26, including a decision on the final position player and the backup catcher.
“By this time tomorrow, we’ll be down to probably one guy [over the limit],” Leyland said. “I think the picture will be almost totally clear for everybody by tomorrow.”
The one decision that will be left will be in the rotation. That, Leyland said, should be decided Wednesday, or Thursday at the latest. Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman both start Tuesday — Willis against the Orioles in Sarasota, Bonderman in a minor league game. Nate Robertson is scheduled to start Thursday against the Braves. You can read into that, I suppose, what that means for Robertson’s chances.
Leyland said Sunday he has in his mind what his roster would be, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be the final roster. Dave Dombrowski has the final say on that. So what follows now is a discussion with Dombrowski, Leyland, the coaching staff and other members of the front office on the baseball side.
The final roster spot is essentially down to Don Kelly or Clete Thomas. The backup catching decision essentially comes down to whether the Tigers want Alex Avila catching a couple times a week in Detroit or every day in Toledo for development’s sake, which would most likely put Robinzon Diaz on the team. The fact that roster decisions are coming Tuesday seemingly indicates the Tigers don’t expect to grab another backup catcher on the waiver wire or in a trade.
The best-of-7 series reaches Game 5 today, as Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis try to continue their strong showing. This is Robertson’s third time facing the Jays this spring, all here in Dunedin, so it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to some of the hitters.
- Jackson, CF
- Sizemore, 2B
- Ordonez, RF
- Inge, 3B
- Guillen, DH
- Raburn, 1B
- Laird, C
- Ramirez, LF
- Santiago, SS
P: Nate Robertson, Phil Coke, Joel Zumaya, Jose Valverde
- Jose Bautista, 3B
- Aaron Hill, 2B
- Adam Lind, LF
- Vernon Wells, CF
- Lyle Overbay, 1B
- John Buck, C
- Randy Ruiz, DH
- Travis Snider, RF
- Alex Gonzalez, SS
P: Brian Tallet
For those who are interested, this game is on MLB Gameday Audio.
Two outings into what could arguably be a make-or-break spring training, Dontrelle Willis looks far better than he has at any other point as a Tiger. Yet if it seems like there’s a bad break ahead for the D-Train, it’s possible he found it Monday in the form of a hyperextended left elbow suffered on a quick pickoff throw.
Willis said he’s fine and that he’ll be playing catch tomorrow. Still, his voice was just a little more downtrodden than one might expect from someone who just tossed his second consecutive outing of two scoreless innings. As of Monday afternoon, Leyland had yet to hear from the team medical staff as to whether the injury is bad at all.
“I’ll be out there tomorrow long-tossing and stuff,” Willis said, “so I’m fine. Just tweaked something. They’re just doing precautionary on me, but I’m OK.”
If it indeed isn’t bad, then Willis will start Saturday at home against the Yankees to try to continue what could well be the early stages of a career comeback.
Willis entered after the Braves had roughed up Max Scherzer and Fu-Te Ni for eight runs over the first two innings. He retired the side in order in the third inning in just seven pitches, six of them strikes. He headed back into the dugout to a seriously enthusiastic ovation.
“Just trying to focus, understand I’m one pitch away every time I throw the ball, and every pitch is for a purpose,” Willis said. “I was able to establish that and get some good ground balls. As long as they’re taking a right turn, that’s a good thing.”
Willis came back out and, like he did in both innings of his previous outing, gave up a leadoff walk to Jason Heyward, who hit about a 450-foot homer off Max Scherzer in his previous time up. Willis’ first-pitch ball to Freddie Freeman was his last of the day he hit the zone for his next three pitches before getting Freeman to swing and miss at a fastball with movement for the first out.
Up came Eric Hinske, and down he went on three pitches — a slider and two fastballs — taking a called third strike.
It was then that manager Jim Leyland and assistant athletic trainer Steve Carter came out to check on Willis, who was telling him he was fine before they could even get to the first-base line.
Willis finished off his outing with a slow groundout from Lakeland native Matt Diaz, who’s 10-for-24 off him in his regular-season career.
“I think Matt Diaz is like 99-for-100 off me,” Willis said.
What stands out about Willis, obviously, is his ability to stay around the strike zone, first and foremost. But he’s also much more consistent in his delivery, on Monday in particular. He said after his last outing last Thursday that he was more comfortable out of the stretch than the windup. They worked on that between outings and seemed to have not only a more comfortable release, but something he could repeat with the same mechanics each time.
“Me and Jonesy worked got in the bullpen and just tried to work on something that’s comfortable for me and to have the ability to repeat that over and over,” Willis said, referring to bullpen coach Jeff Jones. “Guys that are good are able to repeat their delivery over and over again, as many times as they need to, to be efficient. I thought it was something pretty good thus far.”
As incredible as it sounds — not to mention way too early to evaluate — but it’s plausible to say that at this point in spring training, Willis has looked as good or better than any of the handful of candidates for those final two spots in the rotation. That means next to nothing right now competitively, but it means volumes for how good Willis looks right now compared to last year or the year before.
Think about it: Willis was pitching in simulated games around this point last year. Instead, he’ll start against the Yankees in a split-squad game on Saturday at Joker Marchant Stadium.
“Sometimes you need to struggle, and God puts you through things to humble yourself, so to speak, and really make you understand that we’re a blessed few, man,” he said. “I’m proud to have a name on my jersey, and I’m proud to be part of a historic organization that’s been around since the beginning. When you walk through our locker room, you see all these big names and you just want to be a part of something.
“If I’m on, I know I can be a help for this team. I know I can be a help for any team.”
Dontrelle Willis is no Lane Kiffin. Or John Calipari. Or whichever college coach you want to use as an example.
Point is, though Johnny Damon mentioned calling his friend Willis for his take on the Tigers and how Damon would received, right before Damon agreed to terms on his one-year contract, Willis isn’t taking credit, especially since Damon called him, not the other way around.
“I don’t recruit,” Willis said. “We’re just good friends. Our wives are good friends. He just asked me how the organization was. I just gave him my honest opinion, especially in my situation, where I haven’t played well for the organization. I still spoke highly about the guys in the clubhouse, guys in the training room, the coaching staff and the front office, because that’s how I really feel. That was just friend to friend.
“I’m sure it was a hard decision for him. He had so many teams bidding for him, and I wished him all the best, regardless of what he did. I guess my words spoke volumes for him. He called me back within an hour and said he’d see me this spring. I really appreciate that he took my words to heart, because they were heartfelt. I was just being totally honest about everybody. … It wasn’t really the conversation that everybody thought it was.”
Still, he has given opinions about organizations before, including when he was with the Marlins.
“As goofy as I am, I do have an attention to detail,” he said. “I’ve always been somebody who tries to pay attention as best as I can and watch my surroundings, and I have a good idea of personalities.”
Said Willis: “I told Johnny, ‘I haven’t been playing well, and they still treat me with a lot of respect, from top to bottom.’”
On one hand, if you believe Johnny Damon’s statements that Detroit is where he wanted to play all along once he knew he wasn’t heading back to the Yankees, then he shouldn’t have needed much recruiting from Dontrelle Willis. On the other hand, he did call Dontrelle Willis.
Yes, Dontrelle Willis became a recruiter for Damon, even if he didn’t intend to be.
Willis and Damon know each other from Team USA at the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t the only player Damon knew on the Tigers; he knows Phil Coke from the Yankees last year, but Coke didn’t have his phone number.
So he called Willis. Damon wanted to ask someone on the club how players and fans would react to his arrival.
“After I got off the phone with him, I was like, ‘This is going to work,’” Damon said. “And we’re expecting bigger things from him. He’s obviously going to battle to get back to form. And even he said, ‘This is a great place to play, you’re going to enjoy it.’ Said all the right things to me, and I was like, ‘Wow.’
“Scott [Boras] called me about two minutes after that and asked if we were good to go. And I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
It’s starting to sound more like a possibility now.
One of the questions that came up during the conference call announcing the Jose Valverde deal is how the rest of what was already shaping up to be a deep Tigers bullpen will slot with a closer now on board. If Zumaya’s healthy, Dave Dombrowski pointed out, he has a history as a setup man. Ryan Perry and Zach Miner slot in for the middle innings, and Dombrowski obviously likes the depth with their left-handers.
Which brought him to Coke.
“I think he’ll get the ball with a change to lengthen out in the spring,” Dombrowski said, “and get a chance to compete for the fifth spot.”
With that, another names enters the rotation competition with Armando Galarraga, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Eddie Bonine. With the Tigers sounding increasingly confident that Jeremy Bonderman will take the fourth spot in the rotation, it’s looking like a handful of pitchers will compete for one rotation spot.
That should pretty much be the field, because the pitching staff looks pretty much set.
“If we did [make another signing], it would not be a pitcher,” Dombrowski said. “We feel very comfortable with our pitching right now. We have four starters who we think are set.”