Dontrelle Willis Has Solid First Start of 2010


Dontrelle Willis wasn’t perfect, far from it in fact, but he didn’t have to be. Fifth starters rarely are you know. And if you were watching when play began this afternoon, when Willis opened the action with a four pitch walk of David DeJesus, I’m sure you were holding your breath, I know I was.

The first inning was nothing pretty for Willis, the starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers against the Kansas City Royals today. After the walk to DeJesus, Scott Podsednik followed with a single to center on a 3-2 pitch. Willis recovered a bit to get Alberto Callaspo to ground into a double play, then pitched around Billy Butler, walking him with the open base. Jose Guillen found a changeup to his liking and dropped an RBI single to right before Willis got Rick Ankiel to pop out to end the inning.

In total, Willis walked two, allowed two hits and one run in his first inning of the new season. He did so while throwing just eight of his 22 pitches for strikes.

You are certainly forgiven if you thought we were about to see the blow up outing we’ve seen from Willis in the past. Just as the first inning was coming to a close, ESPN’s Rob Neyer tweeted that Willis would be out of the rotation by May. He may be right, but it won’t be because of his effort today. Willis pulled himself together.

For the next five frames, Willis alternated solid and shaky innings. He sat the Royals down in order in the third, needing just 11 pitches to do so. In the third, Willis surrendered another run, coming on an RBI single by Billy Butler, it was the third hit of the inning, but Willis escaped further damage by getting Guillen on another double play ball.

Willis again was strong in the fourth, sitting the Royals down in order, including a strikeout of Jason Kendall. Again, Willis ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth, but again worked out of it thanks to a double play ball, this time a fine defensive play by Don Kelly at third. For good measure, Willis completed his day with a 1-2-3 sixth, fanning the final hitter he faced (Ankiel) on a 94 mph fastball. You hear that, Lynn Henning? 94 mph.

In total, Willis walked a pair of hitters, both in the first inning. He allowed some hard hit balls, including a shot by Butler that would have left the yard if not for a stiff wind. He needed a couple of good defensive plays to be made to keep the Tigers in the game.

The facts are that those plays should be made, the wind does sometimes blow in, and every pitcher will walk a hitter or two, or even three. As I cautioned last season, let’s not hold Willis to a higher standard than other pitchers. His outing was a very good one overall, especially for a number five starter.

Willis’ final line: 6 IP 2 ER 7 H 2 BB 4 K, 88 pitches 54 strikes.

He may not be able to hold thing together for the whole year, he may not be able to do so for the entire first half. But he did enough to make you a little less worried about his next start and that’s progress.

Number five starters are asked to keep their teams in the game. Today, Willis did just that.