After Dontrelle Willis posted a 5.62 ERA and a 7.68 walk rate last season, I personally felt that baseball fans would never see Willis return to a major league mound in the foreseeable future. However, Willis went 5-2 with a 2.63 ERA for the Reds' Triple-A affiliate, and the organization felt as though that was good enough production to warrant a call-up. Most importantly, Willis had 2.39 BB/9 through 75.1 innings. From 2008-2010 Willis posted 8.68 BB/9.
Willis looked solid in yesterday's start against the Milwaukee Brewers, allowing only two earned runs on four hits, four strikeouts, and four walks, and he was in line for the victory before Francisco Cordero blew the save in the ninth.
While the 29-year-old left-hander walked four, he did demonstrate better control than the 2007-2010 version. He threw 97 pitches, with 59 of them for strikes and a 60.8-percent strike rate. Last season Willis recorded a 55.9-percent strike rate, and it was his highest rate since 2007, the last season in which he made more than 13 starts. Furthermore, he established 0-1 counts 69.2 percent of the time, which is a fantastic rate for any pitcher.
Willis showed above average control with his fastball, with a 63.6 percent strike rate, but he only established a 3.6 percent swinging strike percentage. He also averaged 89 mph on his fastball, an improvement over last season's average of 88 mph and his highest since 2007.
Additionally, he showed good control with his slider by recording strikes 58.3 percent of the time and induced swinging strikes 11.1 percent of the time against opposing hitters. Willis showcased his changeup only six times, and threw strikes three times, with no swinging strikes.
A ground-ball rate of 52.9 percent allowed Willis to keep his opponent's hit total down, but four of the five line drives he allowed went for base hits. If Willis can maintain an above average ground-ball rate (higher than 45 percent) and keep his walk rate down, he could help the Reds during the second half of the season. A larger sample size will be needed before anyone can definitively say Willis has been cured of Steve Blass disease, but the evidence is pointing in the right direction.