Detroit Bullpen Will Be Key To Dontrelle Willis' Success

Matt SCorrespondent IMay 10, 2009

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27 :  Pitcher Dontrelle Willis of the Detroit Tigers pitches in relief against the Toronto Blue Jays February 27, 2009 at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Dontrelle Willis wasn't a one-hit-wonder. He wasn't a flash-in-the-pan kid who fooled hitters for only one summer.

He won 58 games before he was 25-years-old. He played a critical role for a World Series Champion. He nearly won a Cy Young Award.

Dontrelle Willis still has the physical tools to be a dominant major league pitcher—he is too young to have lost that already.  

What Dontrelle lost was the confidence, the swagger, and the bravado that he displayed on the mound as a kid in Florida.

I don't know how he lost it; was it the constant rebuilding that took place in Florida? Was it the pressure to succeed in a new city after the trade? What I do know is that the guy couldn't throw strikes last year. Willis saw his strikeout-to-walk ratio reverse from its career level of 2:1 to nearly 1:2.

His confidence was gone. He didn't trust his stuff.

The Tigers placed Dontrelle on the disabled list at the end of spring camp citing an anxiety disorder, hoping that some extra help could get Willis back to previous form.

For me, early signs are encouraging.

In 25.2 minor-league innings this spring Dontrelle has posted 16 strikeouts to only nine walks, nearly the two-to-one ratio that he enjoyed in the big leagues. He has given up his fair share of hits, but that only proves that he has been hitting the strike-zone.

Dontrelle needs to trust himself to get the ball over the plate before he can trust himself to get hitters out. He was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, "I struggled, but I struggled because I put a lot on myself."

The Detroit bullpen can help take some of that pressure off of Willis by continuing to be rock solid on the back end. Joel Zumaya, Bobby Seay, and Ryan Perry each have an ERA under three and Fernando Rodney has not blown a save.

Dontrelle will need to know that the bullpen can hold the lead and even cover for some of his mistakes in order to regain his lost form.

The bullpen needs to give Willis permission to make mistakes, permission to be confident, permission to let it all hang out and have fun.