Henning Up to His Old Tricks


Last season, readers of Lynn Henning were inundated with seemingly weekly articles about the impending release of Magglio Ordonez. It got to the point that I’m sure Ordonez himself was waiting for the call from Dave Dombrowski every day. As we know, the call never came and Magglio is still a Tiger.

Regardless of whether or not I agreed with Henning then (for the record, I did until Maggs began hitting again), I simply can’t follow the logic he put forth in his article yesterday, where he states that Dontrelle Willis is on the verge of release.

Let me be clear, Henning is not saying he thinks Willis should be released, he’s saying Willis is about to be released. If he has a source that has lead him to such an idea, he isn’t mentioning one, so it appears as if Henning is operating on pure conjecture. But again, he doesn’t present his article as opinion, but fact.

Not only does Henning mislead his readers in that way, but his logic behind the idea of cutting Willis is also troubling. Henning states that Willis would be cut because he was topping out at 89 mph in his last start. Henning fails to mention that this was a start in which Willis allowed one walk and a hit batsman in three otherwise perfect innings. A start in which he suffered back spams in the first of those three innings, yet continued to pitch effectively through three.

Henning then says that Nate Robertson has already earned a rotation spot, and that Eddie Bonine will be in the bullpen. But Willis will be cut because he doesn’t hit 90 on the radar gun when suffering through back spasms?

Last I checked, Robertson hasn’t consistently seen 90 mph in two years, Bonine also works in the high 80s. Willis, meanwhile, was throwing 93-94 in his previous start, before the back injury.

Results are all that matter here. If the radar gun readings were that important, why does Joel Zumaya have a spring ERA of 9.64? Because he is unable to get hitters out with regularity. Willis has allowed a total of 12 baserunners in 10 innings this spring. Robertson has allowed 13 in 10.1 innings, and Bonine has allowed nine in 6.1 innings.

Simply put, Willis has had the best camp of any of the three. In fact, if you had to rank the best pitchers the Tigers have had so far, Willis is probably second to only Rick Porcello. Robertson has also been very good, however.

Which brings me back to Bonine. Last week, Henning stated that the Tigers would eat as many as two of the three big salaries fighting for the rotation in order to insert Bonine in the fifth spot. Now Henning says Willis is a goner so Bonine can pitch in relief.

I’m not sure what Henning’s infatuation with Bonine is, but I don’t share his enthusiasm. Bonine is a nice pitcher, a four-A type, but a nice pitcher. I think he can be useful at the major league level as a long man and spot starter, but don’t expect him to light the world on fire, he just isn’t that guy. In short, the Tigers (and every other team in the league) have three guys that can do what Bonine can do, given the chance.

Henning says that the Tigers had planned on eating at least one of the big salaries coming into camp, which is probably true. But why have them continue to pitch if you already know who you’re getting rid of? My guess is that Dombrowski and Leyland weren’t counting on seeing this Dontrelle Willis in Lakeland, but now that they have, it would be plain dumb to cut him loose.

Worst case scenario if the Tigers keep Willis and Robertson is that Dontrelle makes a couple of starts in April and implodes. The Tigers can then put Robertson in the rotation, call up Bonine, and cut Willis. But what if they cut him now and  Willis signs on with another team and the Tigers pay him $11.6MM to win 12 games for another club?

There just isn’t a reason to make a decision like this right now. There is a roster spot available, you don’t have to lose Bonine if you send him down, and the Tigers get to find out if this Willis is the same guy from the last two years, or the guy that used to pitch for Florida. Releasing him before you know that answer just isn’t smart. A lesson Henning should have learned a long time ago.