It was far from anything the Tigers fanbase and organization had expected three years ago.
Entering this year though it became a matter of when it would happen.
That day came Sunday morning.
"We just felt at this point we were going to give (Armando) Galarraga the ball," Tigers President Dave Dombrowski said. Also being called up will be Max Scherzer, who was acquired this offseason from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade, which sent Edwin Jackson to Arizona and Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees.
The Tigers received Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Austin Jackson, and Scherzer.
"Unfortunately, too, in Dontrelle's case, he recently has not pitched quite as well as he did early in the year," Dombrowski said. "We just felt that we were ready to make the change."
Willis' contract will be placed on waivers starting tomorrow, and if he passes through waivers, the Tigers will try and find a suitor for Willis within the following 10 days. If they fail to do so, they will release him from his $12 million contract.
With Galarraga and Scherzer returning to the rotation, the Tigers will throw out to the mound Verlander, Porcello, Bonderman, Galarraga, and Scherzer, likely in that order.
With the recent news that Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt wants to be traded to a team that has a chance for a World Series title, the Tigers could look to put Bonderman in the bullpen, which is already strong, and acquire the Houston ace.
However, the chances seem unlikely.
Willis was part of a blockbuster 2008 winter meeting trade that sent him and Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers in exchange for prospects, including Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. Cabrera was able to meet Detroit's needs right out of the gates, but Willis had problems.
He was sent down to Triple-A affiliate Toledo after being diagnosed with "anxiety issues." It wasn't something that Willis believed he had, but he agreed to go down to Toledo and work on his pitching.
"I just applaud his efforts since we've had him," Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said. "It's been kind of a long road back. As Dave said, we felt that the consistency wasn't there." He worked on changing his mechanics while with the Mud Hens, and when he was called up in the 2009 season, it was clear that he still had problems.
This time, he was getting rocked in the bullpen.
Willis was given one last chance this year, and he was off to a good start, not allowing as many runs over a small portion of innings, collecting strikes along the way. It was recent though when Willis had lost control of his pitches again, and had put runners on the bases.
When Detroit acquired Willis, they were anticipating the 20-win, NL Cy Young winner that came from the Marlins. Instead, they received a man who went 2-6 during his time here.
There is a silver lining, though. This is a league where pitchers can find their stride and become a reliable pitcher again.
The perfect pitcher to look at is Barry Zito, who has had a huge year.
Zito signed a seven-year contract with the San Francisco Giants in the 2006 off-season, expected to be part of a feared bullpen. Zito was rocked his first three years in San Francisco, his ERA above 4.00, giving over 90 runs each of those seasons, 103 runs in 2008 and did not have a winning season.
This year he has turned things around from thin air, posting a 2.94 ERA and has a 6-2 record.
"I feel like I've been through death and back," Zito told USA Today . "I took a lot on my shoulders when I signed it. I found myself wanting to satisfy every fan, every San Franciscan.
"...I learned the hard way."
Willis' soon-to-be former catcher Gerald Laird believes he will be back with a team.
"I definitely see some changes in him from last year to this year," Laird said. "I think he's close. He's got a ways to go, I think, but for the most part I thought he went out there and battled and gave us all he had. I commend him for that."
There will be a ball club that will look at Dontrelle and see past his woes in Detroit, sign him, and perform well again.
"I know he's going to be OK. He's going to come out of this thing and he's definitely going to make another ball club better."
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!