Willis' Latest Flop Reaffirms First-Place Tigers Full Of Concerns

Mike FeldCorrespondent IJune 15, 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)

Following his removal from Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher Dontrelle Willis sprinted towards the dugout, punching his glove before reaching the first step.

With his control, it should be considered a surprise that Willis made contact with the glove, instead of his thigh.

Willis lasted 3.2 innings, allowing six runs, six hits with eight walks. Yes, eight walks.

As bad as it seems, Willis may not be the worst pitcher in the rotation. On Saturday, Armando Galarraga earned his seventh loss, lasting only two innings. Why? He allowed four runs off eight hits. He hasn’t won a game since April 26.

This might be the worst first-place team in baseball.

In mid-June, the Tigers remain three games up on the Minnesota Twins. The reason can most likely be attributed to the front end of the rotation. Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello are a combined 20-9 with an average 2.99 ERA. Verlander and Jackson are Cy Young candidates.

On the other hand, Galarraga, possibly the best Tiger pitcher in 2008, is 2-7 with a 5.56 ERA. Willis has only made seven starts after a terrible spring, but is not 1-4 with a 7.49 ERA.

Detroit has two former members of its rotation coming out of the bullpen, but neither seems like a reliable option.

Zach Miner, always an asset as a long reliever, started in the rotation this season. After an unsuccessful run, he was condemned to the bullpen, where he’s allowed one run through five appearances (11.1 innings).

Then there’s Nate Robertson. An off-and-on lefty who was a key member of the 2006 American Champion team. Robertson has yet to start a game this season. He’s pitched 20.1 innings, boasting a 6.20 ERA. Not exactly an option to start.

Jeremy Bonderman was expected to be a member of this year's rotation and should have been an option. But after making his first start of the season Monday (an eight hit, six run, three walk nightmare through four), he’s back on the DL.

What to do? Robertson and Willis are both locked up to long term, pricey contracts. Obviously, a trade is not an option. The Tigers are stuck with them for the time being.

The minor leagues do include a couple possible options, but it’s really slim pickings. Don’t expect much out of Toledo or Erie.

Then there’s the trade option. In the past few days, Brad Penny has been mentioned. But with a farm system depleted following the trades for Miguel Cabrera, Gary Sheffield and Edgar Renteria, there’s not much talent to offer without including a big bat.

Oh, right. There’s that offensive problem, too.

The Tigers have knocked in 46 runs through 13 games in June. That may not seem like an issue, but 10 of those 13 games have produced three runs or less. Detroit is 6-8 this month, but obviously strong pitching has helped.

Former batting champ Magglio Ordonez has failed to hit consistently and has long his power. Five spot DH and left fielder Carlos Guillen is expected to be a mainstay on the DL.

Center fielder Curtis Granderson has gotten the boot from his leadoff spot. Second baseman Placido Polanco, a career .300 hitter, is hitting .261. Rumors are swirling about a trade, especially for an outfielder. Matt Holliday, Ryan Spilborghs and Adam Dunn have led that discussion.

But once again, do the Tigers have what it takes to make a move? Holliday might make the most sense, because he’s in a contract year with a team expected to be out of the pennant race by July. He’ll be attractive in exchange for prospects, but Detroit will need to outbid other contenders.

Spillborghs might cost a bit less, but the Rockies are officially in rebuilding mode. Either a prospect or a young up-and-comer might be in the cards for Colorado to pull the trigger. The Phillies and Red Sox are also in the mix, and might have more to offer a team thinking about 2010.

Dunn has 17 home runs and will provide the power needed. His team, the Nationals, are competing for one of the worst records of all-time. In fact, Dunn has more home runs than Washington has wins (16). Problem is, he’s set to make $8 million this season. The Nats will look to move a large portion of that salary with him, something the Tigers aren’t in a position to accept.

It looks like, for now, Detroit is stuck with its current roster. The expectation is three wins in a row, followed by two losses. Somewhere in there, the team is bound for a tough loss and a lucky win, unless manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski can pull off a miracle.

Hey, it's better than being a Mets fan.


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