Vindication For Willis


Before I begin here, let me give you the final line from Dontrelle Willis’ start today against Baltimore. 4.1 IP 7 H 5 ER 4 BB 3 K

Not exactly overwhelming stuff when you have just traded your safety net.

But here’s where I’ll say don’t panic. Don’t panic.

That last line was as much for myself as for you. The trade of Nate Robertson opens up a whole big area for concern that wasn’t there two hours ago. We know that Willis has shown a great rebound from the woes of the past two years so far in camp, but we also know that those games don’t count for much of anything.

Simply put, Robertson’s presence allowed for a bit of security. Willis’ track record over the past few years is not one that inspires confidence. We all hope that Willis can be an effective pitcher once again, but all we have is that hope. Now, with Robertson no longer there as an option if Willis were to falter, the Tigers are left with just Eddie Bonine as a back-up plan.

Certainly Willis has every right to celebrate right now, however. Since coming to Detroit in the Miguel Cabrera trade, he has done nothing of note on the field while battling through his own personal bout with Steve Blass Disease and a related (I assume) anxiety disorder.

But Willis is not in the Tigers rotation by default. Dave Dombrowski said in a media session to announce the Robertson trade that Willis had made the squad before then, and that if he hadn’t been traded, Robertson would have pitched in the bullpen. Considering the fact that the Tigers are picking up something in the neighborhood of 95% of Nate’s contract, I tend to believe him.

But here’s where I’ll caution Tigers fans. Don’t start screaming the first time Willis walks a couple of guys in one inning. Don’t freak out when he has a start like the one he had today. Dontrelle Willis didn’t make this team because he’s going to win a Cy Young award, he doesn’t need to do that. Willis is a number five starter, just the same as any other number five around baseball.

What can teams expect from their number five? A guy that will throw 175 or so innings and keep him team in the game more times than not. A .500 pitcher, nothing more, nothing less.

The question is, can Willis be good enough to do that? I think he can, and more importantly, the Tigers think he can as well.

For Willis, the question won’t be about whether or not he walks the first two batters of the game, that very well might happen. The question will come when the third batter steps in against him. Can he right the ship as he has done so well in almost every outing he has had this spring? Can he get the groundball to quash the rally? If he can, he’ll be more than good enough to help the Tigers compete.

During all of his struggles, Willis has, publicly at least, stood tall and kept smiling. When he wasn’t good enough to pitch in the majors in 2008, Willis accepted a demotion to Rookie ball to try to find his form. He didn’t have to do that; he could have taken the Tigers’ money and walked away a free agent.

When doctors diagnosed him with an anxiety disorder, Willis politely disagreed, but sought counselling and came back this spring with a fresh perspective. He has put in the work, he must continue to do so, but for Willis, this journey has lead him back to the one place he always knew he should be; the mound.

And I, for one, couldn’t be happier for another person in this world than I am for Dontrelle.