With the season-long hubbub about the overpaid, underperforming Barry Zito, and the supposed "downfall" of the third-place Giants, a lot of attention has been deflected from an intriguingly similar situation in Detroit.
Dontrelle Willis, acquired with Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins, was signed to a deal through 2010 that pays out $29 million, and just recently demoted to Single-A Lakeland to "get Dontrelle back to being Dontrelle," according to Tigers president Dave Dombrowski.
That's a lot less than the $18 million a year that Zito gets, but they were signed for the same purpose. Willis was supposed to be the number two behind Justin Verlander, but has been injured for a good part of the season.
The Giants decided to send Barry Zito to the bullpen after his horrendous start, but he never pitched as a reliever and only missed one start. His numbers weren't so impressive back then.
At the time of his demotion, Zito was 0-6 with a 7.53 ERA. He averaged less than five innings per outing, and also average 0.5 walks and 0.4 strikeouts an inning. But, he had given up 1.5 hits and almost 20 pitches per inning as well. He was getting battered around, and even though he walked a good number, there were just too many people on base, and too many of them scoring runs.
On the other hand, Willis has appeared in five games, only lasting an average of 2.22 innings a game, and with a 10.32 ERA. He's walked 31 in his 11.1 innings, averaging almost three every inning. In his last start, he walked five in an inning-and-a-third, giving up eight runs against Cleveland.
But the Tigers did something way more drastic than the San Francisco brass by sending Willis to the minors. Granted, Willis, 26, is younger than Zito, 30, and has less major league experience, but the Giants didn't send Zito down because it is such a blow to the player's confidence.
Zito came out of it refreshed, a different pitcher than before the benching. He's since lowered his ERA to 5.83, and has two wins along with a 3.49 ERA in May. His walks are down, and his strikeouts are up. His command of the fastball is better, and he's using his curveball more, as he should be.
After the break, he's averaged 5.1 innings per start, 0.6 strikeouts, and 0.6 walks. All his numbers are better, and he looks poised to try and shake off the horrible start he had.
It only remains to be seen how Willis rebounds. He's young, and he's a fighter.
As a fellow Bay Area native, I'd love to see him resurrect himself and get back to the level that he used to be at. What's more important, the Tigers, who were World Series contenders in the off-season, have to recover.
On the flip-side, the Giants, predicted dead-last in the National League, are within six games of first place, and don't look too shabby.
Is it destined for either team to be where they are at the end of the season? Not at all. If Tigers want to finish in the middle of the American League Central, Dontrelle Willis will have to play a part in it. And if the Giants want to contend at all for the National League West, a turnaround from Zito, coupled with the level of pitching from the rest of the staff, could very well make it happen.