Game 2009.037: Dontrelle’s Day

Sometimes the game story is a lot more story than game. Tonight is one of those nights as Dontrelle Willis found something. He found his command. He found his confidence. He found himself with his very first Tigers win.

Willis looked like a different pitcher tonight. He had control in his Twins start, but against the Rangers he had command. He worked both sides of the plate to both lefties and righties. He was moving in and out, up and down and working the edges of the zone. He had a very good hitting team off balance. While he did get some help from his defense on some hard hit balls, he had more than his share of dribblers and routine grounders as well.

Willis allowed 2 baserunners in the first inning, and when he recorded the 3rd out of the debut inning that would be the last time for the night he would pitch from the stretch. He recorded the next 17 outs in order and was lifted when we halked the final hitter he faced.

The thing about comeback stories is that you have to have had something to come back from. Dontrelle was battling a lot of stuff, be it mental or physical or some combination of both, since signing his 3 year deal with the Tigers. I know there is doubt about the anxiety disorder DL stint, but whatever happened he wasn’t right before. Tonight he looked right.

I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t have a good feeling about today’s game. The Tigers were without Magglio Ordonez. The Rangers were a hot to who could thump, and Willis was a question mark to say the very least. But this was one of the crispest games the team has played this year. The defense was on the mark. The offense kept the pressure on in the early going. The bullpen shut things down. A great night all around and the Tigers are at 5 games over .500, a new high water mark for the season.

  • The Tigers had 9 baserunners in the first 3 innings but only scored 3 runs.
  • Fernando Rodney has retired 13 straight batters. I’m just sayin…
  • Joel Zumaya topped the century mark
  • Larish was the only Tigers without a hit, but he did have a sac fly and a walk


  1. West Coast Tiger

    May 19, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I agree 100% with your observations. I made a comment in the 4th inning to a few friends here in the Bay Area(Big Dontrelle Fans) that it was the first time in a Tigers uniform, that I have seen him have such awesome command. Every pitch painted the edge of the strike zone. I have a good feeling going forward. This guy should be an inspiration to anyone who has ever fallen off his game. I know one game doesn’t make a season, but imagine if Bondo gets it going as well.

    • Ryan P.

      May 19, 2009 at 11:38 pm

      He’s got a long way to go yet. One great start does not a comeback make.

      • Ryan P.

        May 19, 2009 at 11:39 pm

        Just to clarify, I’m thrilled with the way he pitched tonight and incredibly excited for him. Not trying to be negative, just trying to have some perspective.

      • Mr. X

        May 20, 2009 at 12:27 am

        A long way to go? You could say that if this was a Spring training or a rehab start. He’s past the biggest hurdles already.
        He doesn’t have far to go at all. He just needs to take the ball every 5th game, rinse, and repeat.

        • David

          May 20, 2009 at 2:00 am

          Let me preface this by saying, I missed everything but the first inning.

          Looking at the line/video and what people have said I come away with one major thing-

          This was an awesome start. Still, it is only a first step. A BIG first step, but a first step nonetheless. Lets see how he does against the Rockies and his next several starts. I would only say this buys him another 2-3 starts assuming Bondo comes back.

          He doesn’t need to be this good, but something close to a Quality Start (or better) nearly every time out would be nice and what is eventually expected – the rule rather than the exception.

          • Chris Y.

            May 20, 2009 at 9:52 am

            I don’t know. If you watched him pitch last night, he was pretty darn good. He was absolutely all over their lefties. His fastball was consistently 90+ all night and hitting 93 into the 7th. More importantly, like Billfer said, he was absolutely painting the edges like the NL version of Dontrelle. If he builds a bit more arm strength and his breaking ball gets a bit sharper — look out.

            Now, I know he needs to be able to repeat, but I think there is every reason to think he can do just that on most nights.

            And if he does, this team just took a huge step forward.

  2. Dylan

    May 19, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Disappointed I missed this game. Just caught a bit of it on and I’m definitely rooting for Dontrelle. Hard not to root for him but just great for him to have this game his second time out this year.

  3. jud

    May 20, 2009 at 2:26 am

    one thing is, he is a nice guy and basically every one’s pulling for him…nice start

  4. Tbone

    May 20, 2009 at 6:55 am

    This was an amazing, improbable start. I had given up on D-Train long ago, simply writing him off as the price we had to pay for Caberera. But the guy on the mound last night was crazy good. I never thought we would get one outing like that out him. The question is, was it a fluke or has he really found himself?

    And if he keeps pitching this way, what do we do when Bonderman comes back?

  5. Jeff

    May 20, 2009 at 7:51 am

    I guess what bothered me, less so on the comments here and moreso elsewhere, was the vitriol aimed toward Willis. He was pitching badly because he had lost his control. He wasn’t trying to pitch badly–he clearly was more upset about it than anyone else (which was probably part of the problem). He was never clubhouse poison the way Higginson was, so I never understood the people out there who just loathed Willis. He’s just a big kid out there on the mound and has always reminded me, in some ways, of Fidrych. How can anyone not wish a guy like that well?

    • Kevin in Austin (now Dallas)

      May 20, 2009 at 11:04 am

      I don’t remember any vitriol. Everyone seemed to feel sorry for the guy.

      • Chris in Dallas

        May 20, 2009 at 11:06 am

        I second that Kevin. By the way, I’ll be at Vernon’s in Addison to watch tomorrow afternoon’s tilt if you can make it. Yes, I take vacation days for Verlander’s starts. Wanna fight about it?

      • Andrew in Toronto

        May 20, 2009 at 11:17 am

        Not much vitriol here on this blog, but if you ever read the comments on the… Every article about him making his way back to the Tigers in the past few weeks was met with comments about Dontrelle being garbage, etc.

        Of course, one shouldn’t expect much from the freep commenters, but maybe that’s what Jeff was referring to.

        • Chris in Dallas

          May 20, 2009 at 11:29 am

          I was kinda thinking that. Those people are loons. And not good loons in the way that Sean C. is. Bad loons. Sometimes I have to go there and lay down the law.

  6. Todd

    May 20, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Dontrelle is definetely a momentum pitcher. If he gets things going, he keeps going. It goes both ways with him though, as we saw last year. I think if he gets some confidence he will be a huge factor down the stretch. Now if the Tigers can get Galarraga figured out that will be a phenominal rotation.

  7. Brenden

    May 20, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Any word on any injury from the 7th inning when JL too him out after Rand took a look at him?

  8. Dave

    May 20, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Maybe part of the reason for Willis breakdown was his workload. He pitched more than 1,000 big league innings by the end of his age 25 season. You don’t commonly see that number of innings worked by a young pitcher in the age of pitch counts.

  9. rings

    May 20, 2009 at 9:06 am

    While there’s no dilusions that Dontrelle is the same guy who won 22, if he can be anything close to tonight’s version on a regular basis, he can help carry a team. His personality can be electric.
    At the moment, 4 of our 5 starters look magnificent and we have to feel great about our chances going forward (or at least until we see Minnesota again).

  10. Pingback: The Spot Starters » 2009 Season » More On The D-Train

  11. Chris in Dallas

    May 20, 2009 at 10:39 am

    It’s too bad they’re not playing at Colorado. I want to see Dontrelle hit, dang it! Seriously, though, if he can just give them league-average performance from here on out it’s a win. Jackson and Verlander and maybe Bonderman can do the heavy lifting top of the rotation wise – Dontrelle just needs to pitch well enough to keep the team in the game most nights and I’ll be happy. Or keep throwing 1 hitters. Whichever.

  12. Craig Colwell

    May 20, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Brendon re injury in the 7th.
    They interviewed Dontrelle on MLB TV about an hour after the game. He said he had a brief cramp that lasted about two seconds. “But you know Jim Leyland has an eagle eye and was out on the mound…..I’m fine I just hope I can keep helping out at the back end of the rotation.”
    If you aren’t watching this channel folks(Direct TV CH 213) it has some pretty good stuff. They have Todd Jones on quite a bit and he keeps referring to the Tigers as “We”.

    As of this morning the Pitching Staff stacks up nicely vs the rest of the AL

    Fewest Earned Runs 2nd
    Most K’s 6th
    Fewest Hits 1st
    Walks 8th
    Lowest ERA 3rd
    Fewest ER’s 2nd
    Fewest Innings Pitched 1st
    Shut Outs 1st most in MLB

  13. Chris in Dallas

    May 20, 2009 at 11:05 am

    From the Dead Horse Files:

    Jair Jurrjens is currently 4-2 with a 1.96 ERA, having allowed just 42 hits in 55 innings. Edgar Renteria currently plays his home games at Phone Company Park. As per usual when seeing JJ in the box scores, I will now drink a strychnine martini.

    Just thought I’d bring you all down after Dontrelle’s fab outing.

    • Mark in Chicago

      May 21, 2009 at 12:41 pm


      Jair also has a 3.82 FIP (admittedly still quite good), a .241 BABIP, an 84.8 LOB%, and 4% HR/FB ratio, all completely unsustainable numbers. That ERA is going up.

      His K/9 is a pedestrian 5.24 and his GB% of 36% is well below his career average of 47%.

      Nice start for Jair, but it’s no indication of his ability.

      There. I feel better now. 😉

  14. Kevin in Dallas (used to be Austin)

    May 20, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Could Dontrelle be the feel good story of the summer for a city that needs it?…could the Wings and Tigers the the Phoenix for Detroit, which in turn is the precursor for the end of the current economic woes?

    (sorry for the constant name changes, I’m transitioning)

  15. Ken in Vegas

    May 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Yes, Kevin Somewhere in Texas, I think that Dontrelle’s start last night was a direct precursor for today’s modest boost in the stock market. I for one immediately went out and bought a $6 fruit smoothie after the game on a night that I normally would have stayed home sipping on boiled Nevada tap water. Good things to come….good things..

    • Chris in Dallas

      May 20, 2009 at 12:13 pm

      I actually thought I fell asleep and woke up in the year 2003. Barry Zito twirled a complete game last night as well…strange days, indeed.

  16. Drew

    May 20, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I think he has found his form and is ready to be the old Dtrain. And if he has he may be getting his second ring also.

  17. Brenden

    May 20, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    I found it interesting tonight Bill O’Reilly has D-train as a Patriot in his Patriot and Pinheads segment of his show. He said he was a patriot because of a his comeback story being truely American. Whether I buy the rhetoric is still up in the air, but it is good to see Dontrelle get noticed for his hard work. Hopefully he can continue from here.

    • scotsw

      May 21, 2009 at 9:10 am

      Bill O’Reilly was basking in someone else’s limelight? Say it ain’t so.

      On the other hand, if BillO stuck to sports, we’d all be better off.