The Tigers had to do something with Dontrelle Willis, that much was clear. They couldn't keep starting him, not after Willis showed again Monday night that he just can't throw the ball over the plate. So today, with Willis' permission, the Tigers optioned their struggling left-hander to Class A Lakeland.
"We don't want to put a time frame on it," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We just want to get him right."
Willis has been so bad (a 10.32 ERA and 21 walks in 11 1/3 innings) that releasing him might have been a possibility, except that the Tigers just signed him to a three-year, $29 million contract after acquiring him from Florida last December. With that kind of money invested in him, they had little choice but to do whatever it takes to turn him around.
It's not clear whether Willis will pitch for the Class A Flying Tigers right away. Dombrowski said they want their minor-league pitching coaches (Jon Matlack and Joe Coleman) to work with Willis on his mechanics.
As recently as 2005, Willis was a 22-game winner who finished second in the National League Cy Young voting. His numbers have progressively gotten worse since then, but this year's fall-off has been even more dramatic. Willis had trouble throwing strikes in the latter part of spring training, and he didn't get better when the season began. In an 8-2 Tiger loss to Cleveland Monday night, Willis walked five and allowed eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings.
Willis is still just 25 years old.
The Tigers didn't decide on who will replace Willis in the rotation. They're considering several options, but manager Jim Leyland said Eddie Bonine (9-2 with a 4.48 ERA at Triple-A Toledo) is a strong possibility.