Results tagged ‘ Dontrelle Willis ’

Dontrelle avoids disaster, salvages outing

Final line on Dontrelle: 3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K … It could’ve been much worse with the runners he had on, but he made big plays. He picked off Bobby Abreu to escape the first and rebounded from three walks to escape the second. His third inning against the middle of the Venezuelan order was exactly the way he needs to pitch. His pitches were tailing outside to right-handers in the second inning, but he got them over consistently in the third, which allowed him to change speeds effectively.

“I felt like I was around the zone,” Willis said. “I just didn’t get the breaks.”

Willis lifted after one-plus innings

He had two unearned runs (but no walks) in a 30-pitch third inning before a single, walk and hit-by-pitch led to his removal in the fourth. He threw 43 pitches, 25 strikes, compared with the usual 30-pitch mark in the first outing for pitchers being stretched out as a starter. Kevin Millar had a hard-hit liner to left-center off a hanging breaking ball before Rod Barajas did a solid job of going the other way with a ball that was supposed to break down and in but flattened over the plate.

UPDATE @ 4:20pm: The focus from Willis and the Tigers was on repeating his delivery. He didn’t fall into that ball-four, ball-eight, ball-12 mode when he started giving up damage. They’re looking at this as a building block.

“I knew what I wanted to do today and I felt it,” Willis said. “I just didn’t get it done.”

Or as Willis said later, “I’m happy with everything but the line.”

Leyland said that Willis had good sync in his first inning of work, but not as good in his second.

As for the pitch count, pitching coach Rick Knapp said he had an informal 45-pitch limit in mind for Willis when he went out for that second inning. Knapp paid a visit two batters into the fourth to let Willis know that would be his final hitter and to focus on getting in two good fastballs low. He did that, but then hit Wayne Lydon with his 0-2 pitch.

More encouragement for Dontrelle

OK, by now, I’m guessing you’re tired of reading all this talk about live batting practice sessions and pitchers feeling encouraged. But I really think Dontrelle Willis’ second live BP session is worth mentioning.

Three days ago, Willis was talking about pounding the strike zone making hitters put the ball in play, and he still does. Tuesday, however, was more about Willis working the strike zone with his secondary pitches, especially in and out. He made a point to throw some changeups and breaking balls to every hitter he faced, if only to see how each hitter reacted. And he did a good job of keeping those pitches down in the strike zone. If he missed his spot, it was usually outside, where he’s less likely to give up damage.

Talking with Willis afterwards, he wasn’t gushing so much as he seemed quietly confident. He could leave the gushing to Jim Leyland.

“He looked really good,” Leyland said. “Good life, good movement, throwing strikes. He looks tremendous right now, to be honest.

Added Ramon Santiago: “Everything was low with movement. The sinker was low. And he threw where he wanted.”

Willis is still talking about pounding the zone and putting ground balls in play. And keep in mind, as a left-handed pitcher, he stands to benefit the most from

Like Willis, Jeremy Bonderman seemed to be focused on his secondary stuff in his session today. He threw what seemed like a heavy dose of changeups and breaking balls. Ryan Perry came out throwing hard again, but he seemed to have a better command of his pitches compared to a few days ago. He suggested he was a little less jumpy, though still a little nervous out there.

Other notes …

  • As expected, Leyland said he’ll use Jeff Larish some in the outfield (both corner spots) as the games get going. And while Leyland didn’t give any indication on Larish’s chances for making the squad, Leyland made a point to say, “I would not be afraid to have him on my team. I think he’s good. I think he’s a talented guy.” Larish said last week that while he didn’t know whether he’d play the outfield here, he did play the outfield some at Arizona State, so it won’t be a new position to him.
  • Who’s the player Leyland is most curious to see play in games? That would be outfield Casper Wells, who can play all three outfield positions despite being a big guy. He’s still a long, long shot to make the club, Leyland said, but he just wants to see what he can do out there.
  • Catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor met with pitching coach Rick Knapp this morning to go over signals and calling games.
  • Final World Baseball Classic rosters are officially announced in a few hours, but the Venezuelan roster is already out. Armando Galarraga is in the rotation, while Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen are all supposedly taking part. Fernando Rodney says he’s ready to pitch for the Dominican team, though he hasn’t heard the final roster.
  • Pitching schedule for the Tigers tomorrow against the Braves: Justin Verlander, Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, Brandon Lyon, Eddie Bonine, Fu-Te Ni and Kyle Bloom.
  • Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to pitch for Atlanta tomorrow.
  • Now is as good a time as many to refer to the Tigers Spring Training radio schedule. It includes 13 games, almost all of them on the weekends. However, Wednesday’s game is also on the radio. Click here for a full schedule.
  • The practical joke squad struck outfielder Clete Thomas today while he was working out. Players and coaches returned from workouts this morning to find Thomas’ cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling of the clubhouse.

Good session for Dontrelle

Say what you want about pitchers being ahead of hitters at this point in camp, but the fact that Dontrelle Willis was pounding the strike zone means something. After his turn in live batting practice this morning, both Jim Leyland and Brandon Inge (who batted against him) said it’s the best they’ve seen from him since he joined the Tigers.

Willis’ delivery looked very controlled, more subdued, and his overall results were pretty consistent.

“What I wanted to do was throw everything in the zone and make them hit the ball,” Willis said.

For the most part, they didn’t hit it, which is expected at this point. But he didn’t have to do anything special to get it there.

“I’m sure Dontrelle walked off there today feeling pretty good about himself,” manager Jim Leyland said. “And he should.”

Ryan Perry also threw on Saturday. Not surprisingly, his velocity his impressive, while he seemed to be trying to get a firm grip on his command.

Willis and Perry were part of the third and final group of pitchers to throw their sessions. Every pitcher will get one more round of live BP, starting with Justin Verlander, Brandon Lyon, Zach Miner and others on Sunday. The difference Sunday is that Leyland will hold out most of his regulars, who will instead hit regular BP in the stadium. Leyland said he wants to do that to give them a day away from having to stand in against those guys.

In case you’re wondering about the rotation once games start, Sunday’s group of pitchers will be up to pitch in Wednesday’s Spring Training opener against the Braves. That will presumably include Verlander and Lyon.

Spring trade? Possible, but not quite likely

The Tigers could have spare players to trade this spring — if a lot of things go right.

If Dontrelle Willis rebounds from disastrous season, when he struggled mightily to find the strike zone, and Nate Robertson’s new shape allows him to regain his slider, the Tigers could have six solid candidates at starting pitcher.

willis.jpgThose scenarios could facilitate a trade. To call it likely, however, is to think everything will go right. A best-wish plan might be more appropriate. And that’s before finances really come into consideration.

The Tigers thought enough of their chances of getting some production out of Willis and/or Robertson that they left the fifth spot in the rotation open for them to compete with swingman Zach Miner. But they wanted to protect themselves enough that they traded talented young outfielder Matt Joyce to Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson.

And while Willis and Robertson have prompted encouragement leading into Spring Training, it hasn’t progressed to anywhere near an expectation yet.

“I certainly don’t want to sound like Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson are rookies,” manager Jim Leyland said Thursday. “They’ve establshed some things in their careers. I don’t want to slight that or make light of that. If you could get those two guys back to what they really are, you’d have six starters. But we don’t know. We don’t know for sure.

“I have the utmost respect for both of those guys. That’s one of my prayers, that one of those guys — at least one of them — gets back to form. That could be a big bonus for us. But is it going to happen? I don’t know. That’s why we’re just going to let things unfold.”

If only one gets back to form, there’s no trade. If both get back to form, there’s the chance for a trade. But the other obstacle that comes into play is financial. Both Willis and Robertson are under contract through 2010 — Robertson for $17 million, Willis for $22 million. Even with baseball’s need for strong starting pitching, those are difficult salaries to move in this economy. Will a solid spring training prove enough of an incentive for a team to take one on? Will a merely encouraging spring training? Will one starter need to pitch in relief in some regular-season games to show he’s back for another team to take him on?

Other starters could be on the market. As one example, the Giants have Jonathan Sanchez and Noah Lowry possibly fighting for the same spot. Sanchez, who looked good for the first half last season before falling off, is under one-year contract. Lowry, who won 14 games in 2007 but missed all last year following surgery, makes $4.5 million this year with a $6.5 million club option for 2010.

The Tigers could help facilitate a trade by picking up much of the salary in a deal. But this is a team dealing with payroll considerations, a team that stood its ground on a one-year deal for closer Brandon Lyon rather than matching a two-year offer he had from another club.

Possible? Yes. Likely? Hard to say that.

I think back to 2007, when the Tigers had more starters than starting spots. Chad Durbin, a very good starter for Triple-A Toledo the previous year, was headed for a long relief role once Mike Maroth showed he was healthy. Andrew Miller was going to the minors. Then came Kenny Rogers’ blood vessel constriction and surgery that kept him out until June. When asked if a trade for a starter was possible, president/GM Dave Dombrowski said at the time that teams were calling them about starting pitching.

Durbin stepped into the rotation, held on until Rogers returned. At the same time, Miller was called up and Maroth traded. Durbin went on to make good money and earn a World Series ring with the Phillies last year.

Two words come to mind for likelihoods last year: Armando Galarraga.

Possibilities abound when spring training opens. But seven weeks out before Opening Day, history shows that likelihoods can be deceptive.

First day roundup

The first day went about as any other first day goes. After some early morning meetings, Tigers pitchers took to the back fields, did about a half-hour of stretches and agility work, then hit the infields for fundmental work like pickoff throws, fielding ground balls and covering first base. Pretty routine stuff. Jim Leyland and the coaching staff do their best to try to make it fun, but as Leyland pointed out, pitchers have been throwing to first base for the past 100 years.

From there, half the pitchers went to the back mounds for the first round of formal bullpen sessions. The early sessions are always tricky, Leyland points out, because some pitchers are further ahead in their throwing than others depending on their offseason programs. The coaches told the pitchers to throw as the level where they’re comfortable right now, rather than overdo it and risk injury. Dontrelle Willis was one of those throwing and looked relatively well, for what it’s worth. His delivery might be a little different, but not that much. One thing new pitching coach Rick Knapp says he has emphasized to Willis early on is to be himself.

It’s interesting to watch how different pitchers with different mechanics generate their velocities. Non-roster reliever Scott Williamson is not a big guy, and he has a herky-jerky motion. But watching him from 30 feet away, it works for him as far as throwing hard — not the 99 mph fastballs he used to throw, but still seemingly hard.

Once guys are done throwing, they do some cool-down runs and head back to the clubhouse. Those who didn’t throw today will throw Sunday, unless they’re on a different program.

That’s the schedule for pitchers. For the next several days, it’s time to go golf or fish and hang out with the family, eat dinner, go to bed, get up, go to the clubhouse early in the morning, and repeat.

Early read on Zumaya: Very upbeat, quietly confident

As I mentioned earlier, Joel Zumaya is in camp, has been here for about a month. And as you probably read already, he’s throwing off of a mound and feeling good after the stress fracture in his shoulder was diagnosed late last season. Talking with him Wednesday, you can definitely sense the positive tone in his mood. He’s very upbeat, says his shoulder has felt as if nothing had happened when he lets it go.

At the same time, he’s buying into the system that the Tigers have planned for him, because he wants to show he’s ready for a job out of spring training — not just a job, but the closer’s job. He wants to be part of a three-team competition this spring for closing duties. So when pitching coach Rick Knapp talks about having him bring his throwing motion under control, taking a little bit off of his fastball and getting the benefit of command, he’s for it. He’s also putting more work into his changeup as a big part of his arsenal. We’ll see how it works out and what it means for him, but Zumaya seems to have grown out of his 100-mph-all-the-time approach and is responding well to his new coach. Look for more on the site later this afternoon.

Zumaya, by the way, looks in very good shape after not being allowed to throw until later in the offseason. For that matter, count Dontrelle Willis in the group of guys you can tell put in hard workouts this winter. His agent, Matt Sosnick, had mentioned it as far back as early November, but it’s apparent that he has lost some weight and gained some muscle.
 

Bullpen move + Zumaya = upbeat Leyland

Jim Leyland wasn’t saying a whole lot about his bullpen plans when he talked with reporters Thursday at a charity dinner in suburban Toledo, but he did sound optimistic that he was going to get more help in the form of a move or two coming up, plus hopefully a healthy Joel Zumaya.

“We’re still working hard,” Leyland said. “We’re not done yet. We’re still trying to put our team together. Hopefully that could involve maybe a couple more people, but we don’t know. We have nothing done, but we think there’s some encouraging signs.”

“Up to this point, we’ve done as much as we could. I think Dave has been pretty creative so far, which he said he was going to have to be this year. And I don’t think we’re done yet. Will we get something done? I don’t know. But is it possible? I definitely think it is.”

“We had a lot of money to play with, but we already played with it. And I think everybody knows it. So we weren’t going to be in the hunt for a lot of the big names that were out there and everything. And there’s still some guys that we might have some interest in at hopefully a little better of a bargain.”

Leyland sounded particularly upbeat about Zumaya, enough so that he said the Tigers’ bullpen plans will depend in large part on how he fares this spring in his comeback from the stress fracture in his shoulder.

“That will change the whole bullpen, probably,” Leyland said. “Zumaya’s health will be a significant factor in the bullpen. You might almost need two guys to replace Zumaya. He could be that good for us. He was that good in 2006. If we can get in that scenario again, we’ll be pretty good.”

Asked how Zumaya’s progress is going, Leyland said:

“Typical Zumaya, he was throwing bullets from 90 feet the other day already in Lakeland. It’s a process, but it’s way too early to know what he’s going to look like when he has to get a hitter out, max effort and stuff like that. Right now, he looks good. We’re thinking that he made a lot of progress. But it’s still a wait and see.”

Other quotes from Leyland …

On Bonderman’s rehab: “Tremendous. He looks stronger and better than ever.”

On Dontrelle Willis: “Very good. Outstanding. Better than they saw him at any point last year. But once again, he’s not facing hitters. I’m just going to lay low on that. I don’t want to put expectations or be talking about that kind of stuff every day, because I just think it makes it worse.”

On the competition for the final spot in the rotation: “We obviously need a fifth starter, and I’m going to let that play itself out. I’m not going to comment on it every day. I’m not going to get excited if somebody looks good for three innings one day and somebody looks bad for three. I’m going to sit back. I’m going to play it calm. I’m going to see how things develop. And at the end of Spring Training, we’ll come out there with the best possible team we can.”

Monday: Tigers vs. A's

Back to work after the Twins series and in time to cover the sequel to the simulated game between Dontrelle Willis and Freddy Garcia. Garcia threw around 67 pitches, a lot of them fastballs and changeups, and said he felt good. Willis went around 82 pitches and showed some pretty good command, especially hitting the inside corner, which he said is something he didn’t do a whole lot in past years. No word yet on the Tigers’ next move for either of them, but if they’re going to get into game action, it appears it won’t be until at least the middle of the next week, since the rotation is pretty much set through next Monday.

Carlos Guillen, meanwhile, is running, throwing and swinging a bat without contact, but hasn’t yet taken batting practice. That could happen today. Still, it doesn’t appear he’ll play in the next day or two.

TIGERS (69-74)

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Sheffield, DH
  6. Thames, LF
  7. Renteria, SS
  8. Hessman, 3B
  9. Inge, C

ATHLETICS (65-77)

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Daric Barton, 1B
  3. Ryan Sweeney, RF
  4. Jack Cust, DH
  5. Kurt Suzuki, C
  6. Jack Hannahan, 3B
  7. Aaron Cunningham, LF
  8. Eric Patterson, 2B
  9. Cliff Pennington, SS

Verdict on simulated game

The final verdict on the simulated game from the Tigers staff was generally positive. Willis started out tentative, Jim Leyland said, but looked more confident as the outing went on. His delivery, Leyland said, was “much more controlled.” His velocity supposedly topped out around 94 mph while hitting regularly at 91.

“I was impressed,” Leyland said. “He threw two or three of the better sliders I saw from him this year.”

Willis threw 72 pitches in his 4-5 innings, according to Leyland, while Garcia threw 52-55. His fastball was in the mid-80s, about the same to slightly down from his velocity at Toledo last week.

“Freddy was exactly what I expected,” Leyland said, “and ahead of schedule.”

The plan for now calls for Garcia to make another simulated outing, probably next Monday when the Tigers return home, before Leyland and club officials decide what to do from there. The fact that he’s still pitching here, rather than heading to instructional ball, is a positive sign about his chances of pitching in a game this year, though Leyland said they wanted to get him back in a clubhouse and let him get a feel for what the Tigers are about before he hits free agency at season’s end.

TIGERS (66-71)

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Sheffield, DH
  6. Thames, RF
  7. Renteria, SS
  8. Inge, C
  9. Raburn, 3B

ANGELS (83-53)

  1. Chone Figgins, 3B
  2. Garret Anderson, DH
  3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  4. Vladimir Guerrero, RF
  5. Torii Hunter, CF
  6. Juan Rivera, LF
  7. Mike Napoli, C
  8. Brandon Wood, SS
  9. Sean Rodriguez, 2B
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