Tag:Dontrelle Willis
Posted on: April 27, 2010 8:24 pm
 

Willis and Pierre: The path of friendship

Juan Pierre is godfather to both of Dontrelle Willis' daughters, little Adrianna Rose (3) and Bianca (1), giving the White Sox outfielder and the Detroit pitcher one more common bond in a couple of careers that have followed strangely (and intriguingly) similar arcs.

Best buddies from their early days in the Florida organization, both Pierre and Willis emerged as key figures in the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship run, had varying degrees of success afterward ... and then each man, for different reasons, hit the skids over the past two seasons before getting a renewed chance this year.

Like many of us at various times in our careers, their jobs turned sour and their strength of character was severely tested.

Except, well ... with Willis now in the final season of a three-year, $29 million deal and Pierre in the fourth season of a five-year, $44 million contract, maybe their challenges are a little different than those of most working stiffs.

"Come on, is it really that tough?" Willis asks of the challenges he and his buddy have faced over the past couple of years. "Really, in the grand scheme of things?"

Unlike a lot of guys, the affable Willis gets an 'A' for his perspective.

Yet, even that doesn't fully take away the sting when a guy can't -- or isn't -- performing.

Pierre, who had played in all 162 games over five consecutive seasons, became the odd-man out of the Dodgers' outfield in 2008 when they acquired Manny Ramirez.

Willis, who had been traded to Detroit, suddenly couldn't throw strikes for the Tigers in 2008.

Pierre could have sulked and demanded a trade when Manny took his playing time. And while he did have his moments of moodiness as a fourth outfielder in '08, he came to camp in '09 determined to make the best of the situation -- and this positive attitude aided in making Pierre hugely instrumental in sparking the Dodgers to first place in the NL West when Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for a dirty performance-enhancing drug test.

Willis was so bad for Detroit over the past couple of seasons that he landed on the disabled list twice in 2009 -- for something called "anxiety disorder."

Yet each man persevered and is hoping in 2010 to come out the other side. Willis opened the season in the Tigers' rotation. Pierre is in the White Sox outfield after Dodgers' general manager Ned Colletti, in a class move, kept his promise to try and find a spot for Pierre where his playing time would increase.

"We hit it off because we have the same personality," Willis says. "We get to the field early, we work, we expect a lot of ourselves.

"Sometimes things are a blessing in disguise. We handled [the tough times over the past two years] with class. And now there is a situation for both of us where we're both turning it around.

"I don't think Juan would be in that situation if he didn't stay focused. It's made me proud. It's a testament to what kind of man he is and what kind of teammate he was."

Pierre, playing left field, is off to a slow start in Chicago, hitting .222 with a .282 on-base percentage. He does have nine steals in 18 games.

Willis, 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA in four appearances (three starts), like Pierre, impressed teammates last year with his upbeat attitude despite tough personal times.

"We're not here to rock the boat," Willis says of he and his buddy Pierre. "We want to get along. Our work ethic speaks for itself. To give your best effort, that's all you can ask for whether you're a player, a writer, whatever."

Both within and outside of their own clubhouses, it's not difficult to find people rooting for both Willis and Pierre, so much so that yes, Willis says, he often feels the love.

"I appreciate it," Willis says. "I wasn't down when I was struggling. Everything was fine at home. Just because I was struggling doesn't mean everything was going bad. My family is good.

"It's one of those things where when you struggle, people think everything is wrong in your life. And it's not. I told Skip [manager Jim Leyland], 'Thanks for the opportunity.'

"I really like my teammates, this coaching staff, and the city of Detroit. I'm from Oakland, and Detroit is similar. I do feel a lot of people pulling for me, and I really appreciate it. And I think Juan is the same.

"We're really thankful."

Likes:  Sure is going to be entertaining watching the near-future gyrations of the agents for Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez after Ryan Howard signed his five-year, $125 million extension. ... This hilarious item in The Onion the other day: True Yankees, Regular Yankees to Now Wear Different Uniforms. Among the beauties in the story: "To have Javier Vazquez don the same pinstripes as Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada is…well, it's unthinkable," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as Curtis Granderson modeled the sterile, black-and-white uniform with a large, boxy, non-interlocking "NY" stitched across the front of the chest. ... Really enjoyed Adventureland, a film about a high school graduate having to forego dreams of a European trip before starting at an Ivy League school when his parents have a financial setback, leaving him to a summer job at a Pittsburgh-area amusement park in 1987. Lots of funny (and painful) stuff. James Brennan and Kristen Stewart are terrific. It's out on DVD now and definitely worth catching.

Dislikes: The one television show my wife loves that will drive me out of the room every time: Glee.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Me and some guys from school
"Had a band and we tried real hard
"Jimmy quit and Jody got married
"I shoulda known we'd never get far
"Oh when I look back now
"That summer seemed to last forever
"And if I had the choice
"Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
"Those were the best days of my life"

-- Bryan Adams, Summer of '69

 

Posted on: February 27, 2010 6:59 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2010 7:04 pm
 

Tigers' rotation dominates Leyland's thoughts

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers expect to start two rookies with a combined zero games in the majors (center fielder Austin Jackson and second baseman Scott Sizemore), a third baseman who had surgery on both knees over the winter (Brandon Inge) and a shortstop duo (Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago) whom manager Jim Leyland will be thrilled with if it can produced 80 RBIs between them again.

Yet what's dominating the skipper's mind right about now?

The Tigers' rotation.

"The No. 1 thing I'm thinking about right now," Leyland said, adding, "It's not Austin Jackson or Scott Sizemore.

"The No. 1 thing is how the rotation will play out. That's a huge key."

Though Leyland shies away from discussing specifics out of respect for the pitchers and the process (plus, who knows whether they all stay healthy), the Tigers appear to have three rotatoin spots spoken for -- including by the newly acquired Max Scherzer (from Arizona) -- with the remaining two wide open.

The rotation starts, of course, with ace Justin Verlander, proud owner of a new five-year, $80 million deal.

Rick Porcello, the 21-year-old fireballer who won 14 games last summer, is in there.

Scherzer, 25, who was 9-11 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts for the Diamondbacks, should be starter No. 3.

After that?

"There are four guys for sure that have got credibility, if you want to throw [Eddie] Bonine in that mix."

That means Leyland and pitching coach Rick Knapp this spring will be looking hard at Jeremy Bonderman, 27, who so far is looking strong after missing nearly two seasons following circulatory surgery; Nate Robertson, 32, who spent most of last season in the bullpen and underwent elbow surgery in June; Armando Galarraga, 28, who won 13 games in 2008 but crash-landed back here on earth in '09 (6-10, and his ERA shot up nearly two runs, to 5.64 from 3.73); Dontrelle Willis, 28, whom Leyland says looks much better in these early days of spring; and Bonine, 29, who has started nine games over the past two seasons.

"At some point we have to make decisions," Leyland says. "But we're not even close to that point yet. ... I'm kind of anxious to see how it's going to play out."

********

The weather continues to frown on spring training. Here in Lakeland, it rained all morning and the thermometer stubbornly remained stuck on 49 degrees. Brrrr.

The Tigers did most of their work indoors.

"We actually got some things accomplished," Leyland said. "We went over signs, signs with the catcher and signs with all the players. You try to improvise a little bit to make sure you get something accomplished, so we did that.

"There's nothing else you can do about Mother Nature. The weather that I got for the next week doesn't look very warm, but it doesn't show rain. So if it's 55, 60 and not raining, we're fine." ...

"It's a little aggravating, to be honest with you, but there's nothing you can do about it."

Sunblock Day? Absolutely, positively not. In fact, Saturday was the worst of all down here. Steady rain all morning and a high of 49 degrees in Lakeland. I know you're probably buried in snow somewhere and rain and 49 looks good to you, but it's still ridiculous. Worst waste of money I've made so far this spring, in fact, has been popping for a bottle of sunblock. You can add Florida to your overrated list (at least, speaking in the present tense).

Likes: Get well soon, Bob Gebhard. Arizona's assistant general manager had a mild heart attack the other day and, fortunately, is recovering well. ... Great Jimmy Buffett show in Orlando on Thursday. Excellent diversion from spring training. Any time he digs into his past to play Door No. 3, as well as My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don't Love Jesus and Last Mango in Paris, and anytime he plays the very underrated Window to the World (from the terrific disc License to Chill) and Bob Marley's One Love, it's a great show. ... Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren are outstanding in The Last Station. Really good. ... Good crawfish etouffee at Harry's in Lakeland the other day. And if you're wondering about crawfish, don't even ask about colleague Danny Knobler. Last I talked to him, he had eaten goat in an East African restaurant in Phoenix. ... Nice lunch the other day with Larry Stone, the very underrated national baseball man from the Seattle Times -- not to mention proprietor of one of the coolest blog names around. You can check out the Hot Stone League here.

Dislikes:
Smokers who think they can throw their butts out the car window. You see this a staggering amount of the time, and I saw it the other day on a freeway here in Florida. Who do these smokers think they are? Literally, they view the world as their ashtray. How selfish.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Boat drinks
"Boys in the band ordered boat drinks
"Visitors scored on the home rink
"Everything seems to be wrong
"Lately, the newspaper mentioned cheap air fare"
"I gotta fly to Saint Somewhere
"I'm close to bodily harm
"Twenty degrees and the hockey game's on
"Nobody cares they are way too far gone
"Screamin' boat drinks, something to keep 'em all warm"

-- Jimmy Buffett, Boat Drinks

Posted on: February 20, 2009 10:42 pm
 

Where have you gone, Dontrelle Willis?

LAKELAND, Fla. -- New spring, new start for Dontrelle Willis, the former Florida Marlins ace who has been covered in rust since landing in Detroit last season.

"Every year, I feel like I have to win a job," Willis says, referring to both his golden years in Florida and his current, slump-ridden stretch. "There's no different mentality."

There is a different vibe, however. The Willis who was selected as National League Rookie of the Year in 2003, named to two NL All-Star teams and once was one of the game's most dominant and effervescent pitchers, is gone.

In his place is an older (27) model who is attempting to keep his career from slipping away. Willis appeared in only eight games during his first season in Detroit in 2008, starting seven, and going 0-2 with a 9.38 ERA. Most baffling was his 35 walks against only 18 strikeouts in just 24 innings.

New Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp is watching a determined Willis who has tweaked his mechanics on the advice of the club's minor-league coaches who worked with Willis in the midst of his control problems last year.

"The stuff the guys in the minor leagues worked with him on really took," Knapp says.

While Willis' delivery remains unorthodox, his current version is simplified. He doesn't twist away from the plate quite as dramatically as he once did -- "he's not as violent with his head," Knapp says -- and his leg kick is a little more deliberate and not quite as high.

"He still has his personality," Knapp says, adding that he is relieved with that.

"As a teacher, sometimes the more you get in guys' heads where his mechanics are concerned, the more chance you have to lose him," Knapp says.

So Knapp is attempting to take it slow with Willis and sprinkle in timely suggestions.

So far, it's been a good first impression on Willis.

"He's explained a lot of things, like about us playing catch properly," Willis says. "Things I had never heard before about things that are like second nature to me."

The theory being, of course, is that if you play catch properly, the odds of developing bad habits lessen. Proper arm angle, proper footwork ... it all goes hand in hand, so to speak.

Willis, who has been one of the game's hardest workers since breaking into the majors in 2003, arrived in Lakeland on Jan. 2 to begin preparing for 2009.

"He had some goals in mind, delivery-oriented, that he wanted to achieve," Knapp says. "He's looked pretty good."

Next step: When the Grapefruit League season begins on Wednesday. Baby steps for now. Willis is no longer the sure thing he once was. But it's spring, and at this time of year, there's always hope.

------

All set for the Oscars on Sunday night? I think I'm the only guy in America who did not like Slumdog Millionaire. Bet it wins best picture anyway, but I thought it was extremely overrated.

Based purely on personal enjoyment -- not technical filmmaking, scripts or anything else -- here's how I see the five pictures up for Best Picture this year:

1. Frost/Nixon. Frank Langella is captivating as Nixon.

2. The Reader. Kate Winslet is so good.

3. Milk. Sean Penn should win Best Actor over Mickey Rourke. Rourke (The Wrestler) was really, really good. But part of it was, and this isn't to diminish Rourke, he was playing himself. Penn was acting the whole way. And while everyone is talking about Penn and Rourke, Langella deserves a big mention here.

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Too long and not balanced enough. Too much time spent on Button as a young man in an old man's body, and not nearly enough on him as an old man in a young man's body. I thought the latter was when it really started to get interesting, and that only came in the final 45 or so minutes of a movie that lasted for nearly three hours.

5. Slumdog Millionaire. The uplifting ending? The Bollywood dance during the credits? Give me a break.

Likes: Toronto center fielder Travis Snider, one good-looking rookie prospect. ... That the media relations director of the Toronto Blue Jays is named Jay. Jay Stenhouse. How perfect is that? But I am glad that Detroit doesn't have a media relations director named Tiger. Tiger Britten instead of Brian? Nah. ... Pitchers throwing live batting practice. After the first couple days of spring, camps begin to get a little boring. Then, when the position players begin to arrive, the pitchers begin to throw to them, and that really puts some juice in camp. Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera batted against Justin Verlander the other day -- I wasn't in Lakeland then, but I would have loved to have seen that one. ... The large dinosaur statues off of Interstate 4 next to the billboard that reads, "You're leaving Dinosaur World." Kitschy. ... Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen on West Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa. ... The Huevos a la Mexicana at Tapatio's in Lakeland.

Dislikes: You mean that steroid Alex Rodriguez said his cousin got over-the-counter in the Dominican Republic wasn't available by prescription, even in the D.R.? Shocking.

Sunblock Day: Cold. I mean, like 40-some degrees cold at 7 this morning. Nice, bright sun, and I know some Tigers-related folks spoke with family back home in Michigan and it was only 15 or so and snowing. That quieted the weather-related complaining in Florida very quickly.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long
"Caught somewhere between a boy and man
"She was seventeen and she was far from in-between
"It was summertime in Northern Michigan"

-- Kid Rock, All Summer Long

 
 
 
 
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