"I'm having fun,'' Willis says.
Indeed, people around the team emphasize the changes in Willis' personal demeanor when talking about him, and that may in fact be the key for him. "He seems great, he seems relaxed. He seems a totally different guy,'' the Tigers' legendary manager Jim Leyland says.
"He seems to be at peace,'' pitching coach Rick Knapp adds.
As opposed to say, Dontrelle circa 2008:
When he first arrived in Lakeland two years ago, Willis definitely wasn't ready for major-league action. And he wasn't himself, and everyone could see that. Armed with a new $29-million deal as the lesser of two players who came from Florida in that trade, Willis fell to pieces practically the moment he arrived. Whether it was the new contract he signed with the Tigers before he ever threw a pitch for them or any comparison of his value to the superstar slugger Cabrera, he just flat lost it. He couldn't throw a strike. He was cranky. He was, in short, very bad.Boy, he was really bad, wasn't he? Well, with the National media now fully in the fray, and the possibility that Willis may again make the team, we're stuck playing the what ifs again.
"Sometimes the harder you work, the worse you get," Willis says. "I was in quicksand."
And luckily, answers can come as soon as tonight. Dontrelle is starting the Tigers 1:05 game against the Blue Jays today. Jeremy Bonderman--the presumed 4th starter going in to spring training--pitches the 7:05 game against the Nationals. Sure, it's just one start, and sample size and spring training and all that, but at some point the Tigers are going to need to make a decision. And with Nate Robertson looking like the best of the bunch so far, today may very well be judgement day for the two former rising stars who, for one reason or another, essentially haven't pitched in the major leagues for two years.
And now, for the first time, as spring training hopes give way to the reality of the season, I am able to see why that may not be a recipe for success. But what if...
Also What if the Tigers still had Jair Jurrjens? Our friend Lynn Henning asks that very question and is quickly rebuffed by Bless You Boys, who has had enough
We already know Jurrjens would look great on the Tigers' pitching staff, and would have made a formidable top of the rotation that much better. We know Edgar Renteria was a bit of a risk due to his age and lack of success in the AL with the Redsox, and was a massive disappointment as a Tiger. We know the trade ended up a massive failure, by far the worst of Dave Dombrowski's tenure.Of course, Kurt goes on to pick at the old wounds that he warns us not to dig up, but what are you going to do. As a kid growing up in the "The Tigers traded away John Smoltz" era, I think that as long as this generation of Tigers avoids the organizational black-hole of talent that they experienced from say, 1994-2003 give or take, and is competitive for the next few years, then it will be a little more than a footnote, I hope. Back in the 1990s, Smoltz would have been the savior the Tigers needed, but nowadays I think that Justin Verlander fills that role. For all we know, Jair Jurrjens could just end up being the next Brian DuBois or Felipe Lira (although he certainly seems to be the real deal, as many of us surmised at the time).
We know, we know, we know.
Well, so do the Tigers.
They realize it everyday when they see Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis struggling to nail down a spot in the 2010 rotation.
Final question, would people really be as upset about Jurrjens (now, and at the time) if his name wasn't so awesome? I say no.
Glowing Adjectives That's what I've got for this year's edition of Topps Finest, which is awesome, as per usual. Here's a preview of the gallery I've got in the works.
(Blue!) Refractors are fantastic in Finest.
The Shoes Fit Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but Austin Jackson has been tremendous in spring training. Hardball Times runs down five key Tigers questions and says as much:
My initial thoughts were that Jackson would start in the season in Triple-A and the Tigers would go with the more experienced Clete Thomas, but a .341 spring batting average has all but locked Jackson in as the Tigers' Opening Day center fielder. Even more interesting is that the speedy Jackson will be hitting as the team’s leadoff man. Jackson strikes out a lo,t but he also gets his share of walks (.356 minor league career OBP) so he isn't a poor choice at leadoff.
He has hit for average, taken walks, struck out far less than expected, stolen bases, stretched triples etc. The big question is are we looking at a hot-streak aberration happening at the right time, or is this the Great Leap Forward in Austin Jackson's development? Oh, how I hope for the latter.
Misc. A blog totally unrelated to baseball cards goes in search of a Curtis Granderson-as-Yankee card and IS TOLD THEY DON'T EXIST. Grand Cards, to the rescue! Night Owl knows all about Billy Hoeft. Bless You Boys revisits the Spring Training questions asked back at the start of the month. Michigan Baseball by the numbers, so far.