By: David Jeffrey, Lakeland Correspondent
After starting his career at the highest of highs, Dontrelle Willis started his trek back to the major leagues in Lakeland Florida. With a few changes to his delivery and locating his pitches within the strike zone Willis has taken the first step back against the Clearwater Threshers.
The first thing that caught my eye during Willis's start was the changes in his wind up. He no longer starts with his pitching arm cocked in the air during his wind up nor does he extend his glove hand during his follow through. The result is a lot less violent of a delivery with the staple high leg kick still in tact.
It wasn't the prettiest of pitching lines, 7 Innings 8 hits 4 runs, all earned and only two strike outs. Probably the most important line in the box score is the zero for walks. When you consider last season where Willis allowed 35 walks in 24 innings for Detroit, zero walks in any start shows significant improvement.
Willis pounded the strike zone all night. Out of 75 pitches, only 16 were out of the strike zone. He also stayed ahead of the count most of the night with throwing first pitch strikes to 22 of the 27 batters he faced. For the majority of the evening Willis's Fastball sat in between 88-90 with some sink, though on occasions he hit 92-94. Willis was also able to throw his change up and slider for strikes.
After Willis started the game with three perfect innings, the Thresher lineup took a more aggressive approach. They swung early and often which lead to the majority of the hits allowed by Willis. In the fifth inning Willis allowed three hits, none of them anyone would consider a hard hit ball. After three well placed bloop singles, Willis gave up his second run of the night. The sixth inning was a different story. After an infield hit, Willis gave up a mammoth of a home run to Matt Rizzotti on a 0-1 92mph fast ball that was thrown right down the heart of the plate. The left hander Rizzotti pulled the ball to right field and landed over four hundred feet away. Willis did bounce back to retire the next batter on a meager pop out to second.
All in all Willis's first start on his journey back to the major leagues was successful. Regardless which league Willis is pitching in, the first step to regaining his dominance was the ability to throw strikes. And that's what Willis did, he threw strikes. According to Willis this will be his only start in Lakeland, his next step will happen in Double A Erie.
Joel Zumaya Makes Back-to-Back Appearances
By: Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
Joel Zumaya's road back to Detroit hasn't been the smoothest ride, but after his appearance on Wednesday night, it seems to be that the end is now in sight.
Zumaya made his first back-to-back appearance on Wednesday evening, the true test for a reliever that has battled soreness and lingering arm issues. Zumaya will need to be capable of appearing at minimum in consecutive games, potentially even coming out for an appearance three days in a row.
Zumaya didn't disappoint after his strong showing on Tuesday. Zumaya was cool and in control on the mound, while still showing a bit of the fire that Tigers' fans have come to know and love about him.
The slimmed-down Zumaya (those that haven't seen him are in for a bit of a surprise as he's clearly in better shape than he's ever been as a Tiger) was a questionable double away from repeating his 1-2-3 outing from Tuesday. Zumaya struck out a pair while using 17 pitches to get through the inning. Even more encouraging, 13 of those 18 pitches were for strikes.
Zumaya obviously relied on his fastball, mixing in his breaker at times. His fastball control was good but not great, as is to be expected from someone like Zumaya who has never had pinpoint control.
On the radar gun, Zumaya was sitting consistently at 93-94 MPH on the Toledo gun - the equivalent of around 97-98 MPH for a more accurate reading. (For comparison, Freddy Dolsi was sitting at 89-90 most of the night, and as well all know, Dolsi throws harder than 89 MPH).
This was likely the final hurdle that Zumaya needed to cross to prove he's ready to return to big league competition. No return date has been set yet, but it's possible Zumaya could join the Tigers in Kansas City for the weekend series. If they elect to hold him back a bit longer, there's no reason for him not to make his Tigers' debut next week against the Yankees.