Blog Entry

Strength Amidst Weakness - Part II

Posted on: May 8, 2009 11:38 am

The Tigers have made some significant roster movements in the past 24 hours.  They are hoping to find renewed strength in all of the weaknesses with their pitching rotation.  Right now, it seems that their latest baffling dilemma is their woeful lack of hitting.  That will be addressed in a later blog.  First off, let's examine the current developments regarding some pitchers that I have rated as a minus thus far this season.

It's Time to Find Out

Manager Jim Leyland commented Thursday this week on the current status of left handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis.  He stated:

"He can't benefit any (more) from pitching" in the minors.

In two starts with AAA Toledo, Willis struck out eight and walked six.  His latest outing saw him pitch 7-2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on five hits.  His fastball was clocked between 89-93 MPH.  His breaking ball and changeup were good.  Leyland was quoted as stating that Willis' pitches are "pretty much around the plate all the time."  By the way, he threw 118 pitches in that outing, losing the game 2-1.

"The basic report was they think it's time", the manager said.  He added:  "It's time to find out.  I think that's good.  We'll find out...It's a huge thing for us.  I hope he's really good, because a real good left-hander in the rotation would be very good for us.  I'm certainly optimistic.  Regardless, I think it's definitely time to find out."

Finding out just how far D-Train has come, and if he can still be successful at the Major League level becomes a reality next week.  It was announced yesterday that Dontrelle Willis will join the team in Cleveland, and be activated to make his first start of the season for Detroit on May 13th against the Minnesota Twins.  His last victory came on September 25, 2007 for the Florida Marlins

The minor league pitching coordinator for the Tigers, Jon Matlack observed that Willis has done "a lot of encouraging things."

What are the expectations for this pitcher, trying to find his way back to the major leagues and "find himself" again?  Leyland, in no uncertain terms, expects Willis to pitch and win games.  We expects him to do well and contribute as a Major League Baseball starting pitcher, and feels he has a good chance to do so.

Willis' agent, Matt Sosnick commented on how his client is managing the challenges that has kept him down in the minors thus far.

"He's pretty confident that - whatever the issue was - he is back and his stuff is good enough to have success in the big leagues."  He further stated:  "He has been convinced that he was having a hard time relaxing when it came to pitch, and it got progressively worse.  Now he's figured out a way to relax his mind. 

"He's done absolutely everything he could to get back.  The Tigers have surrounded him with a great group of people.  They've done as much as a team could do to get a return on their investment.  We have every expectation that he's going to be successful."

I hope so.  The team can use any positive contribution he can add to their starting rotation.  At the very least, perhaps an evaluation can provide the answer as to what exactly is the future for Willis.  Does he become a member of the rotation, or do the Tigers cut their losses with him and let him go?  I honestly don't know at this point.  Asking me that last week, and I would have leaned toward Willis never appearing on the mound for the parent club ever again.  Now, it is time, about time, to finally find out.  I hope that we like what we see.

The Roster in Flux - Again

To accomodate the addition of Dontrelle Willis to the active roster, a player must be deactivated from the roster.  At this time, that remains to be seen who gets the cut.  Not only that, but to make room on the starting rotation, one of their starters will be moved to the bullpen.  The candidate is Zach Miner.  It is not because the team lacks confidence in Miner.  To the contrary, manager Jim Leyland is very high on him. 

"Zach is a tremendous swingman - a very valuable Major League pitcher", the manager quipped.

Zach Miner is willing to do whatever it takes to contribute in a positive way to the club's success, regardless of his current role.  A class act.  On the year, he has pitched 20 total innings, with a record of 2-1.  He needs to cut down the number of pitches thrown, averaging 18.1 per inning.  He has recorded 13 strikeouts compared to 11 walks, with an ERA of 4.50.

On A Positive Note

Manager Jim Leyland is just not lacking for interesting sound bites.  This one caught my ear, for sure.  He suggested that right-handed pitcher Jeremy Bonderman could soon be given a rehab assignment.  He has been on the  15-day disabled list since March 30, recovering from thoracic outlet compression syndrome surgery. 

"It looks like we're moving toward a point where (Bonderman) will be assigned somewhere, unless there are some surprising setbacks." 

The skipper was encouraged that Bonderman threw six painless innings in extended spring training this week on Wednesday.  His fastball was averaging between 89-91 MPH.  It is amazing to me to see what he is accomplishing with such undergoing such a serious, extensive procedure.  It will take time for the muscles to regain strength and "relearn" his pitching repetition.

All in all, it appears that progress is being made.  We all see that with the rotation and bullpen that has been functioning up until this point.  Hopefully Leyland will not sacrifice the synergy and the cohesiveness the team has developed through adversity; a team seemingly made up of a rag tag assemblege of players held together with duct tape and baling twine.  If Willis contributes well, then I'm sure space will be found for him.  Send Robertson down, if that what has to happen.  Getting some return on the $29M investment in Willis would be good, only if it does not sacrifice what the Tigers currently have. 

It is time to find out what they have.  It is good that it is early enough in the season to tinker a bit, kind of like Sparky Anderson, playing the part of a mad scientist.  Mixing up what you have, and seeing what you get.  I hope for a successful, progressive year for this rebounding team.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or